A Yellow Giant: Gentiana lutea

Some of you may be surprised to find out that the following image belongs to a gentian, but it’s true. This is Gentiana lutea (Yellow gentian, Bitter Root), native to the mountainous regions of central and southern Europe (Carpathians, Alps, Pyrenees…), where usually grows in alpine and sub-alpine meadows on calcareous soils. It is a tall perennial, reaching 1-2 m, with large leaves arranged in a basal rosette until flowering. The yellow flowers are atypical for a gentian, with corolla deeply divided in 5-7 narrow petals, and disposed in terminal and axillary clusters.

Gentiana lutea

Gentiana lutea flowers

Gentiana lutea has been used for centuries as a medicinal plant, and to flavour alcoholic drinks commonly known as bitters, which are very common and widely used in Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. For this purpose, the roots and rhizomes are collected in late fall and dried, practice that has lead to over-collecting and brought the species to endangered lists in many countries. The principal medicinal use of the yellow gentian is for digestive disorders due to its bitter compounds, among which the gentiopicrin, is one of the most bitter natural compounds known.

Apart for its medicinal virtues, it is an impressive perennial, a focal point for a sunny perennial garden. It is a rare find, so hurry up and spread the word! Flowers in June-July or in July-August at high elevations. Needless to say that it is very hardy. Propagation has to be done by seed.

Gentiana lutea

Gentiana lutea in the Display Garden at Lost Horizons

Of botanical interest: Despite its atypical flowers Gentiana lutea it is the type species of the genus Gentiana! [The generic type is a representative species that is selected when a genus is described].

I’ll have more on Gentiana lutea, as the few seeds I collected from the Carpathians Mts. will germinate (fingers crossed) and also I hope I’ll manage to collect more seeds in the future.

Meanwhile,  you can see the yellow giant in flower by visiting the Lost Horizons Display Garden in July (and sometimes a few plants are available for sale).