gentian (jĕnˈshən) [key], common name for some members of the Gentianaceae, a family of widely distributed herbs, chiefly perennial and fall blooming. There are many types of gentians (genus Gentiana and similar species of other genera), most of which have blue flowers. Gentians flourish in north-temperate and alpine regions. Many are grown as ornamentals in rock gardens; the alpine blue gentian (usually G. acaulis, native to Europe) is most common. Indigenous North American species include the bottle, or closed, gentian of the East, the similar soapwort gentian of the West, and several fringed gentians (especially G. crinita ), rare and beautiful wildflowers cultivated with difficulty in gardens. Some members of the family are aquatic or marsh plants, e.g., the marsh pinks (genus Sabatia ) and the floating heart, or water snowflake (genus Nymphoides ). Stomachics and bitter tonics have been made from ancient times from the rhizomes and roots of several species, especially the European yellow gentian ( G. lutea ), which is also used in the manufacture of liqueurs. Gentians are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Gentianales, family Gentianaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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