Mention gentian and most people will think of an intense
blue. Many of you will have heard of gentian violet, though
that dye is not made from this flower, only named after it. The
majority of Gentiana
flowers are blue or purple,
occasionally white or red, or, as in this case, yellow.
Standing above the other species, the great yellow gentian,
Gentiana lutea, grows in pastures of central and
southern alpine regions of Europe. The flower stems can reach
heights of two metres, however in cultivation it is usually
less than one metre.
Even when the plant is not in flower, it is conspicuous.
Growing in pairs, the leaves are broadly ovate and deeply
ribbed. The lower leaves are large, diminishing in size the
higher up the stem they grow. Clusters of yellow flowers are
arranged in tiered whorls, each whorl carried above a pair of
Also known as bitter root, or bitterwort, the large tap roots
are collected and dried for medicinal purposes. They are also
often used as the key flavouring ingredient in the alcoholic
beverage known as bitters. Perhaps not being amongst the
favoured blues, has made this species bitter?Plants will live
for several years, becoming dormant in winter, and with
enough seedlings appearing in the border to ensure its
The yellow tiers of Gentiana lutea can be seen
flowering now below the lancewood on the rock garden, in the
Lindsay Creek border, and in the camellia borders in the
lower Dunedin Botanic Garden.
- Robyn Abernethy is the rock, water and alpine
collection curator at Dunedin Botanic Garden.