AskDefine | Define gentian

Dictionary Definition

gentian n : any of various plants of the family Gentianaceae especially the genera Gentiana and Gentianella and Gentianopsis

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Any of various herbs of the family Gentianaceae found in temperate and mountainous regions with violet or blue flowers.
  2. The dried roots and rhizome of a European gentian, Gentiana lutea, used as a tonic.

Derived terms


Extensive Definition

Gentiana is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the Gentian family (Gentianaceae), tribe Gentianeae and monophyletic subtribe Gentianinae. This a large genus, with about 400 species.
This is a cosmopolitan genus, occurring in alpine habitats of temperate regions of Asia, Europe and the Americas. Some species also occur in northwest Africa, eastern Australia and New Zealand. They consist of annual, biennial and perennial plants. Some are evergreen, others are not.
Gentians have opposite leaves that are sometimes arranged in a basal rosette, and trumpet-shaped flowers that are usually deep blue or azure, but may vary from white, creamy and yellow to red. Many species also show considerable polymorphism with respect to flower color. Typically, blue-flowered species predominate in the Northern Hemisphere, with red-flowered species dominant in the Andes (where bird pollination is probably more heavily favored by natural selection). White-flowered species are scattered throughout the range of the genus but dominate in New Zealand. All gentian species have terminal tubular flowers and most are pentamerous, i.e. with 5 corolla lobes (petals), and 5 sepals, but 4-7 in some species. The style is rather short or absent. The corolla shows folds (= plicae) between the lobes. The ovary is mostly sessile and has nectary glands.
Gentians are fully hardy and like full sun or partial shade, and neutral to acid soil that is rich in humus and well drained. They are popular in rock gardens.
According to Pliny the Elder, Gentian is an eponym of Gentius (180-168 BC), the King of Illyria, said to have discovered its healing properties. Some species are of medicinal use and their roots were harvested for the manufacture of tonic liquor, for instance in France "Suze" or similar liquors. Gentian is also used as a flavouring, for example in bitters, and the soft drink "Moxie" which contains "Gentian Root Extractives".



Gentian in Culture

  • Gentian roots from the Auvergne region of France are the basis for Gentiane, an apéritif (liquer). Varieties include Suze, created since 1795, at the distillerie Rousseau, Laurens et Moureaux à Maisons-Alfort; Ambroise Labounoux's La Salers, made since 1885 at the Distillerie de la Salers; and L´Avèze, created in 1929 in Auvergne. Picon, made of equal parts gentian root and Cinchona root with sugar syrup and caramel was created by Gaétan Picon, in 1837, when he was stationed in Algeria with the French army. He returned to France in 1871 bringing with him the "first African apéritif."
  • Gentian is mentioned in the ninth of Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies.
  • "Gentian" is the title of a short story by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman.
  • "Bavarian Gentians" is the name of a poem by D. H. Lawrence.
  • It is mentioned multiple times in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. Also, a character in the book is named Enzian, which is the German term for Gentian.
  • Gentian root is a major flavor component in New England's regionally popular soft drink Moxie.
  • Poet William Cullen Bryant has a poem entitled "To the Fringed Gentian."
  • Used in Queen's University Engineering traditions.
  • The Gentian is referenced in Emily Dickinson's poem number 442: "God made a little Gentian-// It tried- to be a Rose-"
gentian in Bulgarian: Тинтява
gentian in Catalan: Genciana
gentian in Danish: Ensian
gentian in German: Enziane
gentian in Spanish: Gentiana
gentian in Esperanto: Genciano
gentian in Persian: کوشاد
gentian in French: Gentiana
gentian in Upper Sorbian: Baltiski hórkowc
gentian in Italian: Gentiana
gentian in Dutch: Gentiaan
gentian in Japanese: リンドウ
gentian in Polish: Goryczka
gentian in Portuguese: Gentiana
gentian in Russian: Горечавка
gentian in Serbian: Сириштара
gentian in Swedish: Gentianor
gentian in Ukrainian: Тирлич
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