Description & Overview

Cream Gentian is a Wisconsin native perennial that resembles Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) but blooms a few weeks earlier during late summer. Its creamy, tubular flowers are more open at the tops compared to Bottle Gentian. Green-yellow, lance-shaped leaves are opposite of one another, except at the top of the stem beneath the flower clusters where they are whorled. Flowers can last one and a half months.

Cream Gentian may also be known as Pale Gentian or Yellow Gentian.

The botanical name may be synonymous with Gentiana flavida.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 24-36 inches

Mature Spread: 12-24 inches

Growth Rate: Slow

Growth Form: Erect

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average-moist soils

Flower: Cream, 5-parted, 1 ¼-2" long, clustered, mostly closed

Bloom Period: August–September

Foliage: Green-yellow, smooth, clasp stem, mostly opposite, prominent central vein

Fall Color: None

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: A capsule containing small, winged seeds

Suggested Uses

Cream Gentian is typically found in moist, damp wood, prairies, and meadows in southern, west-central, and east-central counties in Wisconsin. Cream Gentian can be used in any moist setting with full sun to partial shade.

The creamy flowers would look fantastic in a native wildflower garden, especially when blooming with other late-flowering perennials such as Goldenrods and Asters.

Since bees are the only pollinators of the flowers, this can also be incorporated into bee or pollinator gardens. It can also be used in shady borders, cottage gardens, and rock gardens.

Adding this to restoration or remediation projects along streams and woodland edges can also be useful. Not only will it benefit wildlife, but passersby will also notice the unique tubular flowers.

Wildlife Value

Bumblebees are the only insect capable of pollinating Cream Gentian. Specific Bumblebees include the Eastern Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens), Brown-belted Bumblebee (Bombus griseocollis), and Golden Northern Bumblebee (Bombus fervidus).

The pollination process that Bumblebees must perform to pollinate Cream Gentian is impressive. The bee will land on the flower, pry open the lobes with its forelegs and head, and crawl its way inside the flower. The flower closes behind the bee once inside. The bee shimmies down the flower, brushing up against the anthers and collecting pollen. Once pollen has been collected, they either turn themselves around in the flower and emerge head-first or will back themselves out. Pollen that wasn’t brushed off is transferred to a receptive stigma in the next Gentian flower. Each of these visits can last anywhere between 2 and 10 seconds and their primary motive is pollen, not nectar.

Shorter-tongued bees will often chew a hole at the base of the flower to steal nectar. Blister beetles (Epicauta pensylvanica) will also feed upon the flowers. Once holes have been made, Honeybees, Green sweat bees, and Carpenter bees will also steal the nectar.

Maintenance Tips

Supplemental water will be needed during times of drought. Adding a healthy mulch layer will help maintain soil moisture levels.

Cream Gentian will take on a yellowish appearance in sites with strong sunlight or dry weather.

In optimal conditions, leaving plants up over winter will help the plant to reseed.

Plants are intolerant of root disturbance so be sure to site properly!

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

Generally, pest free.

Deer may chew off the tops of plants before they flower, though this is not common.

Leaf Lore

The genus name Gentiana honors King Gentius of Illyria (180-168 BC) who was well known for using the root of the Yellow Gentian as medicine.

Pioneers added a piece of Gentian to gin or brandy to stimulate appetite and aid in digestion.

Gentian was used by Indigenous peoples as an antidote for witchcraft, for headaches, sore eyes, snake bites, diarrhea, coughs, and nosebleeds, to improve lactation, and as a liver medicine, laxative, and stimulant.

Gentiana alba can hybridize with Gentiana andrewsii, producing upright plants that have white flowers with blue edges.

Companion Plants

Plants that thrive in similar conditions to Cream Gentian include:

  • Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
  • Riddell’s Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii)
  • New England Aster (Symphyotrichum nova-angliae)
  • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
  • Harlequin Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
  • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
  • Speckled Alder (Alnus incana var. rugosa)
  • Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum)
  • Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
  • Bog Birch (Betula pumila)
  • Purple Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum)
  • Sweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
  • Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina)
  • Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
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Written by Beth DeLain