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Gentiana Clausa (bottle gentian) – A Superb True-blue Native

This week I am down in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, for the International Plant Trials Conference at Longwood Gardens. I came down to learn about how different gardens formally trial plants along with gleaning a lot of new plants to use in the gardens of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

Speaking of CMBG, we have a ton of exciting things going on in Boothbay, Maine. Most notable is that we are beginning a 20-year master plan. This plan will guide us on how we grow and evolve the gardens over the next two decades. A few weeks ago, we held our first stakeholder meeting, where the designers asked the staff and board what they would like to see in our garden. The lead designer was opining on the trend of botanical gardens to set up native plant gardens. He amusingly remarked that often, we set aside native plant gardens to showcase the native plants that often will not grow that well on their own. Why not showcase the best native plants that can hold their own in a garden of a mixed composition?

Bottle gentian - gentiana clausa
Bottle Gentian by Brett Whaley

I am hoping that one of the gardens we add to CMBG is a trial garden where we can evaluate both native and non-native plants to use in landscapes here in New England. 

Growing Bottle Gentian -Gentiana Clausa in a native plant garden

A truly outstanding plant that we have evaluated for years in our garden is Gentiana Clausa.  It would be a great addition to your garden. This gentian, which is called closed gentian or bottle gentian, is a tough native perennial that can stand out in any planting combination. 

The common name for the plant comes from the flower’s appearance. It never truly opens its petals, which makes it look like it is in perpetual bud. The buds and flowers are a deep, intense blue. We have a mass beside of the pond in our Alfond Children’s Garden (it prefers moist soil). I notice guests often stopping to take a look in August and September at these plants. (They “bloom” in the late summer… but can you call it a bloom when it is a perpetual bottle bud?)

planting at Piet Oidolf's Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago
Piet Oidolf’s Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago. Gentiana andrewsii Bottle Gentian, Sesleria autumnalis Autumn Moor Grass, Pycnanthemum muticum Mountain Mint, Amsonia hubrichtii Threadleaf Bluestar, Limonium latifolium Statice by K M

The plants hold up well for over a month. Even after frost, they turn a light brown that we leave until the flowers totally dry. After the first hard frost, the plants, which still hold their flowers erect, look as though they are in suspended animation.  These persisting flower buds make it a great plant for winter interest.  Perhaps that is why you see it in some of Piet Oudolf’s plant selections. 

Gentiana clausa is native to eastern North America, from Canada down to Tennessee and North Carolina. The plants prefer somewhat moist sites with some dappled shade. The more south you live, the more shade I would give these plants. Definitely add this gentian to your garden. I bet it will be a plant you cherish for the late-season blue flowers.


More Blue flower and native plant posts:

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  1. Wow. Thanks for reminding me of these underused, truly beautiful plants with the bluest flowers I’ve ever seen. Saw a gentian plant at a garden center years ago, wanted to buy it and never did. Kicking myself now…

  2. Ellen Sousa says:

    Thank you so much for highlighting this native plant – I have never seen it growing anywhere except Garden in the Woods, but that pure blue definitely makes it garden-worthy especially in smaller gardens where their flowers can be appreciated. Pretty sure I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere but Garden in the Woods, either, but I’m guessing Project Native in Western MA might have it too…

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