Dune gentian (Gentianella uliginosa)

Dune gentian flowers, closed
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Dune gentian fact file

Dune gentian description

GenusGentianella (1)

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).

Height: 0.5 - 6.0 cm (2)

Dune gentian biology

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).


Dune gentian range

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).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

Dune gentian habitat

Inhabits short, open and seasonally-inundated vegetation in dune slacks (2). Dune gentian often grows in association with autumn gentian, Gentianella amarella (6).


Dune gentian status

Classified as Vulnerable in Great Britain, and fully protected by Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (3).


Dune gentian threats

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).


Dune gentian conservation

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).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.


Information authenticated by the Countryside Council for Wales:



Lives or grows for just one year.
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).


  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (March 2002) http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. Jones, A. (2002) Countryside Council for Wales. Pers. comm.
  3. Wigginton, M.J. (1999) British Red Data Books 1; Vascular Plants. 3rd Edition.
  4. Rich, T. (2002) National Museums and Galleries of Wales. Pers. comm.
  5. Grigson, G. (1996) The Englishman's Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd. Oxford.
  6. UK Biodiversity. Species Action Plan. (March 2002): http://www.ukbap.org.uk/

Image credit

Dune gentian flowers, closed  
Dune gentian flowers, closed

© Tim Rich

Tim Rich


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