Star Gentian – Swertia perennis

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Alaska Wildflowers | Purple/Blue

Star gentian flowers in Fairbanks, Alaska

Star Gentian

Swertia perennis

Common Names

alpinebog swertia
star gentian
felwort
star swertia

Synonyms

Swertia perennis var. obtusa

Subspecies

none

Genus: Swertia (felwort)
Family: Gentianaceae
Order: Gentianales
full classification

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb


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Identification and Information

Swertia perennis is a 60-100 cm tall purple or blue flowering plant that grows from a short, blackish rhizome. The stems are erect. The lower and basal leaves are alternate, oblong to elliptic (spoon-shaped) and 8-17 cm long with a flattened petiole. The mid-upper stem leaves are opposite, connate (lower lobes are united), and lance-shaped, on a short petiole.

The inflorescence is a thyrse (multi-branched panicle) with many flowers. The flowers grow from 2-3.5 cm long pedicels. The Calyx lobes are narrowly lanceolate, 8-10 mm long. The calyx is composed of 4-5 narrow, pointed sepals and a pale blue to purple corolla. There are 2 nectaries per corolla lobe. The stamens have 6-8mm long filaments and blue, ellipsoid anthers.

Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

I found no record of food or medicinal uses for S. perennis. However, other similar species in the Gentian family (felwort) have a long history of medicinal use for digestive disorders and to stimulate the appetite (see Gentianella amarella, and G. acaulis). Another species in the Swertia genus (S. chirayita), found in the Himalayas is used as a popular traditional medicine to treat liver disorders, malaria, diabetes, and even treat fever (Kumar, 2016). It is odd that with such a long history of use of plants in the same family, and even genus in Eurasia, there are no documented uses of S. perennis, especially since it has a similar chemical make-up as others in the family.

Distribution and Habitat

Star gentian (felwort) is widely distributed across the northern hemisphere. In North America, it lives only in the Rocky Mountain states of the USA westward, including the Yukon and British Columbia. It is widely distributed in the European peninsula and is found in Siberia, China, and Japan. There are a few isolated specimens reported in Africa as well.

In Alaska, star gentian is not typically found north of the Alaska Range. There is only one listed specimen north of the range in the GBIF database and in the Tangle Lakes/Alaska Highway area (63° N) in the Alaska Range in the Arctos database. The specimens I photographed for this article were actually photographed in Fairbanks (65° N), so it may live sporadically at higher latitudes.

Swertia perennis grows primarily in wetlands and wet meadows.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
         SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
            DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                  ClassMagnoliopsida 
                     SuperorderAsteranae 
                        OrderGentianales 
                           FamilyGentianaceae (gentians, gentianes)
                              GenusSwertia L. (felwort)
                                 SpeciesSwertia perennis L. (alpinebog swertia, star gentian, felwort)

References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 10

Classification and Taxonomy

S. perennis  L., Taxonomic Serial No.: 30118, ITIS Database

S. perennis L., felwort, USDA Database

Map and Distribution

S. perennis L., GBIF Database

S. perennis Felwort, NatureServe Explorer

S. perennis, Arctos Database

Description and Information

8. S. perennis Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 226. 1753., Flora of China (eFloras.org)

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