Alpine plants are the jewels of the garden, but unlike static gemstones they are performing treasures with a repertoire of colourful tricks to lure us right into their inches-high world.
Some cover their tight, wind- and drought-resistant foliage entirely with shimmering, perfect stars. They erupt in spring into flamboyant affairs and draw you in for a closer view. And some, like the gentians, produce flowers of such pure, concentrated colour that they make your eyes sing.
As the 19th century botanist, Thomas Corry, put it when applauding the Gentiana, ‘Blue, blue as if the sky let fall, a flower from its own caerulean wall.’
Once you see this small perennial in bloom you will forever lust after it. Unbelievably blue trumpet-shaped flowers are barely perched on top of the low ground-hugging foliage. Each brilliant bloom faces upward showing its electric blue petals with vibrant stripes sinking deep into the flower’s throat.
Gentiana acaulis is native to the European Alps, this most popular and much-loved spring-flowering Gentian is perhaps one of the easiest species to grow. Extremely hardy and quite long lived in the garden; it forms a low, slow-spreading tufted carpet of pointed green leaves. It is not difficult to please, consistent moisture, but a well-drained spot seems essential. Plant in full sun or partial shade in containers or peat bed, it often performs best in a rock garden situation, where the roots can stay cool and moist.
Growing to only 10cm (4in) tall, Gentiana acaulis spreads 15cm (6in) or more, the leaves are evergreen, grow from a basal rosette, and form clumps. In late spring and summer it bears large upward facing, funnel-shaped flowers in the most amazing shade of deep, true Gentian blue.
Gentiana acaulis has been awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Although seeds can be sown at any time, they may be best sown in autumn to early spring as they benefit from a cold spell in the wet compost after sowing to break their dormancy.
In autumn place the trays can simply be placed in a cold frame outdoors or in a protected area outdoors. They may also be sown at any time and if the seeds do not come up within 6 to 12 weeks the damp seed tray can be given cold treatment by placing in a fridge for about four weeks.
Sow Gentian seeds in starter trays or pots with seed starter mix that has been moistened. Cover the seeds only very thinly with sand or fine grit, a good guide is about the depth of the seed size. Cover the trays with glass or plastic to help keep the moisture in.
Patience may be required as the seeds germinate as each seed germinates, they may take several months to appear so please don’t discard the pot or tray too soon.
Gentian seedlings can be transplanted into their permanent place either in spring or autumn. They require moist, humus soil that drains well. Keep the soil moist.
True alpines, with their close-knit leaves and short, brilliant flowers are adapted to grow high up on mountains in thin stony soil, where the winters are hard and long, the summers short, and where the spring brings nutrient-rich snow-melt washing down the slopes.
Obviously we can’t recreate the high-mountain weather, but we can ensure really good drainage with a mix of equal parts grit, good soil and peat-free compost, a recipe that will suit many alpines. And we can keep the necks of the plants dry, thus prevent rotting by mulching around them with more grit. In spring we can mimic the spring flood of nourishment by feeding plants annually with bonemeal, pelleted chicken manure or liquid tomato food.
Divide gentians in early spring or take cuttings from shoots in mid to late spring.
Alpines and rockeries, walls and containers.
Native to the central and southern European Gentiana acaulis has a wide distribution from Spain east to the Balkans growing especially in mountainous regions, such as the, Balkans, Carpathians, Cevennes, Jura and Pyrenees.
It is found growing in a variety of habitats from rocky meadows, screes and alpine and subalpine coniferous forests. It grows in both lime and acidic soils at altitudes of 800 to 3,000m.
The genus Gentiana is named after Gentius, King of Illyria, who in the 2nd century B.C. found the roots of the herb yellow gentian or bitterwort to have a healing effect on his malaria-stricken troops.
The species name acaulis means ‘stemless’ referring to the way the blooms sit directly on top of the foliage. It is also a group name covering a number of trumpet gentians. The acaulis group includes Gentiana acaulis, angustifolia, alpine, dinarica, ligustica, occidentalis and clusii.
A second species name is occasionally used - Gentiana kochiana. Named for Wilhelm Daniel Josef Koch (1771-1849), a German doctor and professor of botany
Gentiana acaulis is commonly known as Stemless Gentian or Trumpet Gentian.
Synonyms include: Ciminalis acaulis, Ciminalis grandiflora, Ciminalis longiflora, Ericala alpina, Gentiana excisa, Gentiana grandiflora, Gentiana kochiana, Gentiana vulgaris, Gentianusa acaulis.
In Germany it is known as Blauer Enzian, the Blue Genetian and its imagecan be seen on the back of the Austrian one euro cent coin. It has also been chosen as the logo of the Alpine Garden Society.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 25mg Average Seed Count 80 Seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 3200 seeds per gram Family Gentianaceae Genus Gentiana Species acaulis Common Name Trumpet Gentian or Stemless Gentian. Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Deep, true Gentian blue Natural Flower Time Late spring and summer Foliage Evergreen Height 10cm (4in) Spread 15cm (6in) Position Full sun preferred. Soil A well-drained spot is essential Time to Sow Sow in autumn to early spring