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updated: 01/19/11 

Gentian gardening
- a short introduction to gentian horticulture


Many gentians can be cultivated in gardens, both in tropical and temperate regions. In the temperate areas, gentians are mostly known as excellent rock garden plants. The species that are mostly cultivated are from the genus Gentiana (photo).


The North American prairie gentian/lisianthus (Eustoma - photo) is common as a potted plant that rarely last long, in gardens in warmer temperate or subtropical climates, or as cut flowers. Eustoma is called lisianthus in English, but is not closely related to the Caribbean and Central American gentian genus with the Latin name Lisianthius.


The Persian violet (Exacum - photo) has small purple, blue, or white flowers and is also common as a potted plant. Most common in tropical Asia and the Pacific is Fagraea (photo), a shrub or tree with fragrant white flowers. For more information on how gentians are used worldwide for different purposes, see ethnobotany.


But gentians are not necessarily easy to grow. Here are some advice:

- gentians don’t like to be disturbed (don’t touch their roots)

- lots of light

- never let soil dry out: well-drained soil

- try to mimic natural conditions for each species

- sometimes germination can take years, it is easier to start with plants.

- some species need chilling after they have been sown.

- some species have mycorrhizae (they live in symbiosis with fungi)


Contact a rock garden society or get your hands on a gentian garden book for more advice on how to grow gentians (see below). DO NOT DIG UP WILD GENTIANS. They will rarely survive the transplantation and many are close to extinction, so get these pretty plants from nurseries or grow them from seeds.  Seeds are often available from nurseries, societies, and even on eBay. Tissue cultured gentians come from clones and is a good alternative to wild collected plants.


Some pests, insects, and viruses that live on and attack gentians.


Gentians that are commonly cultivated in temperate gardens (hardy)

Eustoma russelianum – prairie gentian, lisianthus – Mixed colors (purple in the wild), up to 2 ft tall, annual in temperate areas (not very hardy). Native to southern USA and Caribbean.


Gentiana acaulis – stemless gentian – very large, blue trumpetshaped flowers on short stalks, from the Alps


Gentiana alpina – blue, trumpetshaped flowers, very low plant

Gentiana andrewsii – bottle gentian or closed gentian – purple-blue closed flowers, from North America (how to grow)


Gentiana scabra var. buergeri – grown in Japan


Gentiana lutea – yellow gentian – Large, tall, sturdy plant with yellow flowers. Wild in the Alps, roots used in bitters and medicines (called Gentianae Radix in the old pharmacopeias).


Gentiana punctata – yellow petals with purple dots, large plant


Gentiana purpurea – purple-red flower, large, wild in Europe


Gentiana rubricaulis – violet-grey flowers


Gentiana septemfida – blue-purple flowers, medium-low plant.


Gentiana sino-ornata – dark-blue flowers


Gentiana verna –  spring gentian – low-growing, dark-blue flowers, from Europe


Gentiana villosa – closed gentian –  from North America

Gentianopsis – fringed gentian – light blue to dark blue, petals with fringed edge


Gentians that are commonly cultivated in semi-tropical/tropical gardens or indoors (not hardy)

Eustomarusselianum – prarie gentian, lisianthus (not very hardy) – Mixed colors (purple in nature), up to 2 ft tall, annual. Wild in southern United States and the Caribbean. (photo, how to grow)

Exacum affine – Persian violet – potted plant, often gets root rot, white or blue-purple, many small flowers, from the tiny island of Socotra in Indian Ocean. (photo)

Fagraea berteroana – pua keni-keni – tropical tree, grown in the Pacific, especially Hawaii, very fragrant, white-yellow flowers, used in perfumes (photo)


Orphium frutescens - Sea-rose, Sticky flower, Teringbos - a pink-flowered shrub from South Africa (link)


References and publications: 

Bartlett, M. 1975. Gentians. Blandford Press, Ltd, Poole, United Kingdom. (cultivation of gentians)

Berry, G. H. 1930’s. Gentians in the garden. Farrar, Straus, & Young. Inc., New York, NY. (cultivation of gentians)

Halda, J. J. 1996. The genus Gentiana. SEN, Dobrι. (pretty pictures and descriptions of many cultivated species)

Ho, T.-N. & S.-W. Liu. 2001. A worldwide monograph of Gentiana. Science Press, Beijing. (taxonomy of gentians)

Klaber, D. 1964. Gentians for your garden. M. Barrows & Co., Inc., New York, NY. (cultivation of gentians)

Kφhlein, F. 1991. Gentians. Timber Press, Portland. (cultivation of gentians) (link)

Wilkie, D. 1950. Gentians. Country Life Ltd, London. (cultivation of gentians)


Links to web sites and companies working with gentian gardening:

Tissue culture of gentians (GRN web page)

Alpine Garden Society, United Kingdom (garden plant information, encyclopedia of common and Latin names, terminology)

Hannelotte Kindlund, Sweden: how to grow gentians Gentianaceae (images)

Pacific Rim Plant Nursery

Rock Garden Plant Database by Pavel Slabύ: Gentianaceae  (descriptions, distribution, cultivation, propagation, photos)

Borghese Gardening: Native plant seeds from US

Xplant Laboratory: Tissue cultured gentians (see photos)

© Lena Struwe, 2003-2006


© Gentian Research Network, 2002-2011.
For corrections and additions, contact Lena Struwe at