Early gentian (Gentianella anglica)

KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderGentianales
FamilyGentianaceae
GenusGentianella
SizeStem length: 4 - 20cm

Classified as Nationally scarce in the UK, and protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, as amended 2002.

This attractive plant has the typical 'trumpet-shaped' flowers characteristic of its family, which are purple with fine white hairs on the inside of the bell, and up to 16 mm long. The leaves are narrow and spear-shaped, and grow from the main stem with no stalks of their own. This particular subspecies is often branched at the base.

Early gentian is endemic to the UK, and during the period between 1987 and 1999, it was recorded on 69 10km squares. The centre of distribution is around Wiltshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight. There is one subspecies, which is declining in central England and the Midlands, and has not been seen at one site in north Devon since 1995, although it could still re-appear.

This species is found on grazed chalk grassland, but a similar species G. uliginosa is found in the depressions, known as slacks, behind coastal sand dunes. Early gentian was also recorded from dunes on the north Devon coast, but is now believed to be extinct there.

Early gentian flowers during May and June, but can appear as early as April and persist as late as July.

The loss of much of England's chalk grassland and changes in grazing practices for this habitat has seriously reduced the populations of early gentian.

Early gentian is listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP), and included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme. There is some doubt as to whether this plant is genetically different to G. uliginosa and another closely related species G. amarella. The latest indications are that G. anglica is the same species as G. uliginosa and, therefore, all three taxa - G. anglica, G. uliginosa and G. amarella - may be considered as one species. However, further analysis is required before this can be proved conclusively but, in the meantime, suitable habitat management advice is being provided to managers of sites where early gentian occurs. This includes setting careful grazing densities between April and October, to aim for an average sward height of about three centimetres, and bare soil amounting to 5% of the total area.

Information supplied by English Nature.

http://www.english-nature.org.uk