Explorer’s Gentian (Gentiana calycosa)
The Explorer’s is the most common Gentian we see on our late summer hikes. It exhibits the large dramatic indigo blue petals and lighter fused funnel of many members of the Gentian family. Its other common name “Rainier Pleated Gentian” refers to the tell-tale pleats or folds between each of its five petals. This, and the small yellowish dots at the base of the petals differentiate the Gentiana calycosa. It grows in clusters, often, but not exclusively, borne one flower per stem, with each stem bearing bright green egg-shaped opposite leaves.
Other common names include Mountain Bog Gentian and Big Mountain Gentian, referring to its preferred habitat of high elevation wet meadows and streams in the mountains of the western US. The related Northern Gentian, though more common globally, is less common in our area, and more alpine in nature.
Gentius, King of Illyria, after which the genus is named, is said to have discovered the medicinal value of some members of this family in roughly 500 BC. The first pacific northwest gentian specimen was recorded by Dr. William Tolmie of Hudson’s Bay Company in an 1833 expedition in Mount Rainier as described in our Tolmie’s saxifrage post.
Gentians have a long growing season. Per Wildflowers of Mount Rainier and the Cascades: “Development from bud into flower is slow; you can spot the gentian buds weeks before you see blossoms.” Prompting Daniel Mathews to comment: “Thanks to the gentian…September hikers don’t entirely miss the subalpine wildflower season.”