Plant of the day: explorer’s gentian

Beautiful deep-blue flowers top tufts of green on an alpine slope. The vase-shaped blossom spreads into five gracefully rounded petals at the mouth; each petal is dotted with pale yellow spots that fade into green deeper in the throat of the flower.

This is explorer’s gentian, or Gentiana calycosaanother high-elevation beauty (also called the Ranier gentian, or the Ranier pleated gentian). It likes cold climates and wet soil near streams or in low meadows (although I saw it outside this typical range, growing on an exposed and rocky slope, so this can happen as well). Bees and other insects love to rummage in it’s deep flowers, and it has been cultivated as an ornamental. In the Bay Area, you can keep your eye out for the similar-looking pleated gentian (Gentiana affinis), a cousin that prefers low elevation.

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