During my explorations of the glades in the White River Hills in southwestern Missouri this past July, I noticed large populations of a flower that I couldn’t recall having ever seen before. Vivid, striking pink petals with contrasting yellow anthers and a curiously recurved style, it seemed difficult to believe that I had simply overlooked it during my many previous visits to the area over the past 25 years. Perhaps it was the time of year – I’ve generally avoided these glades during the month of July – normally hot, dry, and baked to a crisp. This year and the last, however, have been different, with timely rains resulting in unusually lush July vegetation. I also had no clue as to the identity of the plant – the square stems and opposite branching suggested a mint of some kind, but the flowers were definitely not “minty.” I would have to simply take photographs and hope that I captured enough key characters to allow its identification once I returned home.
As it turns out, I was able to easily identify the plant as Sabatia angularis¹ (rose pink, rose gentian) using the late Dan Tenaglia’s excellent Missouri Plants website, and I wasn’t the only person to notice an apparent population explosion of this beautiful species across the Missouri Ozarks (see Justin Thomas’ excellent essay, A Sabatia Induced Rant). As suggested by the common name, this species is in the family Gentianaceae, but it doesn’t resemble other gentians in general appearance, especially the iconic Gentianopsis crinita (greater fringed gentian) and, closer to home, Gentiana puberulenta (downy gentian), that usually come to mind upon mention of this plant family.
¹ Sabatia, for Liberato Sabbati, an 18th Century Italian botanist; angularis, Latin for angular, referring to the angled stem.
This plant occurs in the eastern U.S. west to Wisconsin in the north and Texas in the south. Denison (1978) and Kurz (1999) both mention a preference by this species for acid soils, usually in rocky open woods, glades, old fields, and upland ridges – habitats which occur primarily across southern Missouri. The opposite pattern of branching distinguishes this species from the alternately branched, somewhat smaller, and much less commonly encountered S. campestris (prairie rose gentian), which is most commonly encountered in the unglaciated plains of west-central Missouri.
These plants were common throughout the many glades that I visited during my two trips to the White River Hills in July, adding a vibrant splash of color to the glades after most of the other flowering plants found in these habitats have long flowered out and contrasting beautifully against the green background of uncommonly lush July grasses.
Denison, E. 1978. Missouri Wildflowers. A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Missouri and Adjacent Areas, 3rd revised edition. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, 286 pp.
Kurz, D. 1999. Ozark Wildflowers. A Field Guide. Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Connecticutt, 262 pp.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009