Gentan Research Network logo


What's New?



Gentian Research Network

and Rutgers University:

Classification (newest)
List of genera
List by tribe

Gentian characteristics

What are gentians?

Photo gallery

Research projects

People, addresses
Literature, publications 
Add info to
this site



Common names
Ecology - Natural history

Endangered species

Ethnobotany - Uses

Gentian violet


Who eats gentians?




for kids!

Latin America
North America








Information in other languages:



This page is maintained 
by Dr. Lena Struwe 
(e-mail), and hosted by
Rutgers University


updated: 01/19/11 

(Gentianaceae: Gentianeae: Gentianinae)

more images
stamps with Gentiana
Plants named after Gentiana
Common name: gentian

Latin name and synonyms: Gentiana L. (1753). The circumscription of this large genus has changed dramatically since its description, with species being repeatedly excluded and included from the genus (see Struwe et al. 2002, for an overview of the taxonomic history).  Two genera that earlier have been included in Gentiana are Gentianella and Gentianopsis.

Etymology: Gentiana is the Greek name for this plant, and was first used about 50-100 AD [Corneliuson, 1997].  According to Dioscoroides and Pliny, this plant got its Greek name after the last king of Illyria, Genthios [Genthius, Gentius] (180-68 BC). Illyria was located close to today's Albania. Supposedly Genthios discovered the pharmacological properties of gentians.  Genthios and Gentian is still used as given names, in Albania and other places; Genthios for males, Genthis for females, and Gentian for both genders.

Species:  c. 360 species.

Distribution:  Most of the species occur in temperate areas in Asia, but the genus is also common in Europe, North America.  A few species reaches the Andes of South America and Central America, east Australia, and northwest Africa. In the tropics it grows at high altitudes.

Habitat:  Alpine/montane habitats, forests, marshlands, scree (gravel), meadows.

Characteristics: Annual, biennial or perennial herbs. Leaves opposite, very rarely whorled. Flowers 5-merous (rarely 4- to 8-merous), in simple dichasia, terminal clusters, axillary whorls, or solitary. Calyx fused about halfway up,  sometimes split to the base on one side, often with intracalycine membrane. Corolla tubular, funnelshaped, campanulate, urnshaped, or rarely rotate (only in Gentiana lutea). Corolla throat rarely with fimbriae (multicellular hairs), but the corolla have folds (plicae) between the lobes (except Gentiana lutea). Ovary sessile or on a gynophore (stalk), with nectary glands at the base. Style usually short or absent.

Evolution and related plants: Gentiana belong to the monophyletic subtribe Gentianinae together with Crawfurdia and Tripterospermum, two Asian genera.

Economic uses:  Plants from this genus have wide uses as medicinal herbs, as well as for horticulture, art, decoration, perfume, and inspiration. Gentiana lutea is the source of the old herbal Gentianae Radix and is used to flavor many alcoholic beverages in Europe. Gentiana are popular on stamps worldwide as well.

Notes: Gentiana differs from Gentianella in that it has plicae (thin folds between corolla lobes), intracalycine membrane on the calyx (thinner areas between the calyx lobes), a disk at the base of the ovary, and no nectaries on the petals.
The dye gentian violet is not a chemical derived from gentians, but it has the same color as several purple gentians.

Some selected species (synonyms in parenthesis) and their distribution:

Gentiana acaulis Europe 
Gentiana alba United States
Gentiana alpina Europe 
Gentiana andrewsii United States
Gentiana autumnalis United States
Gentiana bavarica (comic) Europe
Gentiana campestris (comic) Europe
Gentiana clausa (link) United States
Gentiana clusii (comic) Europe
Gentiana cruciata (comic) Europe
Gentiana dinarica Europe
Gentiana frigida (comic) Europe
Gentiana froelichii Europe
Gentiana glauca Europe
Gentiana hybrida Europe
Gentiana lutea  (comic) Europe 
Gentiana pneumonanthe Europe 
Gentiana prostrata Europe 
Gentiana puberulenta United States
Gentiana punctata (comic) Europe 
Gentiana purpurea  (comic) Europe 
Gentiana rubricaulis  
Gentiana saponaria United States
Gentiana scabra  
Gentiana septemfida  
Gentiana sino-ornata  
Gentiana verna  (comic) Europe 
Gentiana villosa  


References and publications

Duncan, W. H. & C. L. Brown. 1954. Connate anthers in Gentiana (Gentianaceae). Rhodora 56: 133-136.

Garg, S. 1987. Gentianaceae of the north west Himalaya (a revision). Today and Tomorrow´s Printers and Publishers, New Dehli.

Gillett, J. M. 1963. The gentians of Canada and Greenland. Research Branch, Canada Department of Agriculture, Ottawa.

Hagen, K. B. von & J. W. Kadereit. 2000. Notes on the systematics and evolution of Gentiana sect. Ciminalis. Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 122: 305-339.

Ho, T.-N. & S.-W. Liu. 1990. The infrageneric classification of Gentiana (Gentianaceae). Bull. Brit. Mus. Nat. Hist., Bot. 20: 169-192.

Ho, T.-N., S.-W. Liu, & X.-F. Lu. 1996. A phylogenetic analysis of Gentiana (Gentianaceae). Acta Phytotax. Sinica 34(5): 505-530.

Ho, T. N. & J. S. Pringle. 1995. Gentianaceae. Pp. 1-139. In: Z.-Y. Wu & P. H. Raven, editors. Flora of China, vol 16. Science Press, Beijing & Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO.

Hul, S. 1999. Nouvelles espèces de Gentiana (Gentianaceae) de la Péninsule
indochinoise. Adansonia, sér. 3, 21 (2) : 245-253.

Hul, S. 2002. Nouvelles espèces de Crawfurdia, Tripterospermum et Gentiana (Gentianaceae) du Viêtnam. Adansonia, sér. 3, 24 (1) : 17-41.

Hungerer, B. K. & J. W. Kadereit. 1998. The phylogeny and biogeography of Gentiana L. sect. Ciminalis (Adans.) Dumort.: A historical interpretation of distribution ranges in the European high mountains. Perspect. Pl. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 1: 121-135.

Kusnezow, N. I. 1895. Gentiana Tournef. In: Engler, A. & K. Prantl, editors. Die natürlichen Pflanzenfamilien, vol. 4(2). Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig.

Kusnezow, N. I. 1896[-1904]. Subgenus Eugentiana Kusnez. generis Gentiana Tournef. Acta Hort. Petrop. 15: 1-507. (German translation)

Marquand, C. V. B. 1937. The gentians of China. Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew for 1937: 134-180.

Omer, S. & M. Qaiser. 1992. Generic limits in Gentiana (Gentianaceae) and related genera in Pakistan and adjoining areas along with a new genus Kurramiana. Pakistan J. Bot. 24: 95-106.

Pringle, J. S. 1977. Taxonomy and distribution of Gentiana (Gentianaceae) in Mexico and Central America: 1, sect. Pneumonanthe. SIDA 7: 174-217.

Pringle, J. S. 1978. Sectional and subgeneric names in Gentiana (Gentianaceae). SIDA 7: 232-247.

Pringle, J. 1979. Taxonomy and distribution of Gentiana (Gentianaceae) in Mexico and Central America: 2, sect. Chondrophyllae. SIDA 8: 14-33.

Struwe, L., J. W. Kadereit, J. Klackenberg, S. Nilsson, M. Thiv, K. B. von Hagen, & V. A. Albert. 2002. Systematics, character evolution, and biogeography of Gentianaceae, including a new tribal and subtribal classification. Pp. 21-309. In: L. Struwe & V. A. Albert (eds.), Gentianaceae: Systematics and Natural History, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Yuan, Y.-M. & P. Küpfer. 1993b. Karyological studies on Gentiana sect. Frigida s. l. and sect. Stenogyne. Bull. Soc. Neuchâteloise Sci. Nat. 116: 65-78.

Yuan, Y.-M. & P. Küpfer. 1995. Molecular phylogenetics of the subtribe Gentianinae (Gentianaceae) inferred from the sequences of internal transcribed spacers (ITS) of nuclear ribosomal DNA. Pl. Syst. Evol. 196: 207-226.

Yuan, Y.-M., P. Küpfer, & J. J. Doyle. 1996. Infrageneric phylogeny of the genus Gentiana (Gentianaceae) inferred from nucleotide sequences of the internal transcribed spacers (ITS) of nuclear ribosomal DNA. Amer. J. Bot. 83: 641-652.

Yuan, Y.-M. & P. Küpfer. 1997. The monophyly and rapid evolution of Gentiana sect. Chondrophyllae s. l.: evidence from the sequences of internal transcribed spacers (ITS) of nuclear ribosomal DNA. Bot. J. Linn. Soc. 123: 25-43.

Yuan, Y.-M., P. Küpfer, & L. Zeltner. 1998. Chromosomal evolution of Gentiana and Jaeschkea (Gentianaceae), with further documentation of chromosome data for 35 species from western China. Pl. Syst. Evol. 210: 231-247.


Gentians of the Tall Grass Prarie (by Ken Robertson, many images)

©  Lena Struwe, 2003-2011


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