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(Gentianaceae: Gentianeae: Swertiinae)

Swertia images
Plants named after Swertia
Swertia in Nepalese Himalaya
Taxonomy, Molecular Differentiation, Biogeography and Ethnobotany of Swertia L. (Gentianaceae) of Nepal Himalaya

Common name:  Chirata, Chirayta, Chiretta, Frasera, Green Gentian, Indian Balmony, Indian Gentian, Kirata-Tikta, Star gentian, Star Green-gentian, Green gentian, Felwort (see also list of Nepalese names).

Latin name and synonyms: Swertia Linnaeus (1753)

Etymology: Swertia is named in honor of Emanuel Sweert (rarely spelled Swert, 1552–1612), a Dutch gardener and illustrator who published an important florilegium in the early 1600s [Corneliuson, 1997].

Species:  ca. 135 species. This group is currently being investigated by Philippe Chassot.

Distribution:  Temperate areas in Asia (100 spp.), Africa (30 spp.), Europe (3 spp.), North America (1 sp.), and  Madagascar (1 sp.).

Habitat:  Marshes, grassland, meadows, open places.

Characteristics:   Herbs, annual or perennial. Leaves opposite, or rarely whorled or alternate. Flowers 4-5-merous in racemes, panicles or soitary. Calyx rotate, without intracalycine membrane. Corolla with very short corolla tube, making corolla rotate, with 1-2 nectaries per corolla lobe. Nectaries often with fimbriae (hair-like appendages) or scales.  Stamens inserted between the corolla lobes with hairs at the base. Style long, short or absent; stigma bilobed. Capsule oblong with winged or unwinged seeds.

Evolution and related plants:   Swertia is not a monophyletic genus and related genera include Gentianella and Halenia.  Current studies by Philippe Chassot investigate the complicated taxonomy within this group and how to best define monophyletic clades in subtribe Swertiinae (tribe Gentianeae).

Economic uses:  

Notes: The American genus Frasera has been included in Swertia by some botanists, but this is not supported by phylogenetic data.

References and publications

Chassot, P. 2000. Phylogenetic position of the genus Swertia (Gentianaceae) in the subtribe Swertiinae. Amer. J. Bot. 87 (suppl.): 118-119.

Chassot, P., Nemomissa, S., Yuan, Y.M. and Kupfer, P. 2001. High paraphyly of Swertia L. (Gentianaceae) in the Gentianella-lineage as revealed by nuclear and chloroplast DNA variation. Plant Syst. Evol. 229: 1-21.

Franchet, M. A. 1899b. Les Swertia et quelques autres Gentianees de la Chine. Bull. Soc. Bot. France 46: 302-324.

Fries, T. C. E. 1923. Die Swertia-Arten der afrikanischen Hochgebirge. Notizbl. Bot. Gart. Berlin-Dahlem 77: 505-534.

Geesink, R. 1973. A synopsis of the genus Swertia (Gent.) in Malesia. Blumea 21: 179-183.

Ho, T. N., C. Y. Xue, & W. Wang. 1994. The origin, dispersal and formation of the distribution pattern of Swertia L. (Gentianaceae). Acta Phytotax. Sin. 32(6): 525-537.

Joshi, K. 2008. Swertia L. (Gentianaceae) in Nepal: Ethnobotany and Agenda for sustainable management, Environmental Leaflets 12: 1-6.

Joshi, A.R. and Joshi, K. 2008. Swertia L. (Gentianaceae) in Nepal Himalaya — Checklist, Phytogeography, Ethnobotany and Conservation Status, Environmental Leaflets 12 :357-368.

Joshi, K., and J. Li. 2008. Phylogenetics of Swertia L.( Gentianaceae-Swertiinae) and Molecular Differentiation of Swertia Species in Nepalese Medicinal Herbs. Poster Presentation, Botany 2008 conference, August, Vancouver, Canada. (pdf)

Karpati, Z. 1970. Eine kritische-taxonomische Übersicht der Gattung Swertia in Europa. Fragm. Florist. Geobot. 16(1): 53-60.

Khoshoo, T. N. & S. R. Tandon. 1963. Cytological, morphological and pollination studies on some Himalayan species of Swertia. Caryologia (Pisa) 16: 445-477.

Pissjaukova, V. 1961. Notulae de genere Swertia L. Bot. Mater. Gerb. Bot. Inst. Komarova Akad. nauk S. S. S. R. 21: 292-313.

Post, D. M. 1956. Studies in the Gentianaceae: Frasera and Swertia of North America.  University of California, Berkeley. Ph.D. dissertation.

Post, D. M. 1958. Studies in Gentianaceae. I. Nodal anatomy of Frasera and Swertia perennis. Botanical Gazette. 120(1):1-14.

Satake, Y. 1944. Species Swertiae nipponenses. J. Jap. Bot. 20: 334-344.

Schweich, Tom. 1999. Two occurrences of desert elkweed Swertia albomarginata (S. Watson) Kuntze Gentianaceae in the Mid Hills, Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino County, California. Abstracts from Proceedings: The 1999 Desert Reseach Symposium. San Bernardino County Museum Quarterly. 46(2) 1999

Shah, J. 1990. Taxonomic studies in the genus Swertia L. Gentianaceae monograph (part 1). Sci. Khyber 3: 17-114.

Shah, J. 1992. Taxonomic studies in the genus Swertia L. Gentianaceae monograph (part 2). Sci. Khyber 5: 117-231.

Sileshi, N. 1998. A synopsis of Swertia (Gentianaceae) in east and northeast tropical Africa. Kew Bull. 53: 419-436.

Smith, H. 1970. New or little known Himalayan species of Swertia and Veratrilla (Gentianaceae). Bull. Br. Mus. Nat. Hist. (Bot.) 4: 239-258.

St. John, H. 1941. Revision of the genus Swertia (Gentianaceae) of the Americas and the reduction of Frasera. Amer. Midl. Naturalist 26(1): 1-29.

Threadgill, P. F. & J. M. Baskin. 1978. Swertia caroliniensis or Frasera caroliniensis. Castanea 43: 20-22.

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.

©  Lena Struwe, 2004


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