Dune gentian is a diminutive plant, which is capable of flowering when it is just 5 mm tall (2), but more usually grows to 15 cm. It has a basal rosette of leaves, as well as 1 or 2 pairs of leaves on the stem, or sometimes no stem leaves at all (4). Much of the plant's height comes from its distinctively elongated flower stalk and its sepals are also characteristically splayed outwards from the flower tube. Dune gentians closely resemble a dwarfed form of autumn gentian, Gentianella amarella, however, and intermediates - probably hybrids - between the two occur in mixed populations (2). The gentians are named after Gentius, the pirate king of Illyria who was defeated by the Romans, and who, as legend has it, first discovered that gentians have medicinal properties (5).
This short annual plant tends to flower between June (4) and September but sometimes flowers as late as November (3). Seeds germinate in either spring or autumn (6), and they seem able to lie dormant for some years, as the plant can make a re-appearance to an area after disturbance of the ground (3).
This plant has been recorded in Britain from Pembrokeshire, Glamorgan, Camarthenshire and north Devon (2). Records from Derbyshire and Scotland are errors (4). It appears to be endemic to north and northwestern Europe with a range extending as far east as Russia (6); throughout this range the species is vulnerable and rare (6).
Undergrazing can result in a reduction of a site's suitability due to the growth of tall plants and scrub on the dunes. Conversely, overgrazing by sheep and even rabbits can also cause problems, and may result in the loss of dune gentian from an area. Sites in Wales have suffered from scrub invasion, the building of a golf course and inappropriate conservation work. Furthermore, hybridisation with autumn gentian may be a problem, but this is not yet fully understood (6).
Two of the sites in Wales are National Nature Reserves, and suitable habitat management is in place. All sites in the UK are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Dune gentian is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan; The Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) is the Lead Partner responsible for the species (6).
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Cross-breeding with a different species.
A floral leaf (collectively comprising the calyx of the flower) that forms the protective outer layer of a flower bud. (See http://www.rbgkew.org.uk/ksheets/pdfs/flower.pdf for a fact sheet on flower structure).
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