Fringed Gentian in Northeast Georgia – Blue, Blue, Blue!– 2018-10-04

Because of its intensely vibrant blue (some would say “electric blue”) color, this beautiful Gentian species has evoked an emotional response from a number of writers/poets over the years. Here are two poems that come to mind:

Fringed Gentian
By EMILY DICKINSON

God made a little gentian;
It tried to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.
The frosts were her condition;
The Tyrian would not come
Until the North evoked it.
“Creator! shall I bloom?”

To the Fringed Gentian
By WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT

Thou blossom bright with autumn dew,
And colored with the heaven’s own blue,
That openest when the quiet light
Succeeds the keen and frosty night.

Thou comest not when violets lean
O’er wandering brooks and springs unseen,
Or columbines, in purple dressed,
Nod o’er the ground-bird’s hidden nest.

Thou waitest late and com’st alone,
When woods are bare and birds are flown,
And frosts and shortening days portend
The aged year is near his end.

Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
Look through its fringes to the sky,
Blue-blue-as if that sky let fall
A flower from its cerulean wall.

I would that thus, when I shall see
The hour of death draw near to me,
Hope, blossoming within my heart,
May look to heaven as I depart.

For the past few years, I’ve set aside some time in early October to make the trip to northeast Georgia to see and photograph a large population of Gentianopsis crinita or Greater Fringed Gentian. This population, on private property, is the largest in Georgia, and it is possibly the southern-most population of this Gentian species in North America. There are only a couple of populations in North Carolina and a couple in Virginia — this is a northern plant. For me, it was important to visit the site this year, because I understand that the property is up for development. In fact, I did see a “For Sale” sign at the edge of the property, but it was mostly covered up by the weedy growth that makes up the preponderance of vegetation in the gently sloping, mountain meadow.

Greater Fringed GentianGreater Fringed Gentian

I picked a “bluebird” day with lots of bright sunshine, because it really seems to bring out the color and texture of the flowers more so than by using a fill flash to illuminate them. Normally, I would prefer a generally overcast day with diffused light, which works well with most wildflowers. Another good reason to wish for a sunny day is because the flowers are diurnal, opening up on sunny days, while remaining tightly closed on cloudy days and during the night.

When I arrived at the site after a 2.5-hour drive from my home in South Carolina, I could see that the field was in good shape even though it had not been bush-hogged in a couple of years. Greater Fringed Gentian plants are tall — some were more than 3 feet (1 meter) tall, and they tended to rise above all of the surrounding grassy foliage. The only other plants which were taller were some Rhus copallinum or Winged Sumac. A few years ago, I managed to visit the site when the Winged Sumac was in it fall glory, with bright red leaves. I managed to photograph the Winged Sumac’s red leaves in only a single shot on this visit:

Greater Fringed Gentian

The Greater Fringed Gentian flowers arise from a single, multi-branched stem which sports as many as 12-15, 2-inch (5 cm) flowers.

While I was there, many of the flowers were being visited by a number of Phoebis sennae or Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies. These bright yellow creatures were flitting all over, sometimes flying directly in front of my face before lighting directly on the Gentian flowers and sipping nectar.

Greater Fringed Gentian and Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly

I spent about two hours finding the best plants to photograph. It was particularly difficult with many dozens of plants being in full bloom. Here are some additional images of these gorgeous flowers:

Greater Fringed Gentian

Greater Fringed Gentian Greater Fringed Gentian

Greater Fringed Gentian

Greater Fringed Gentian Greater Fringed Gentian

Greater Fringed Gentian

Greater Fringed Gentian Greater Fringed Gentian

There was one other Gentian species blooming at the site, and that was Gentianella quinquefolia or Stiff Gentian. I had photographed that species on the Blue Ridge Parkway just a week or so ago, and I was pleased to see it occupying the same habitat as does the Greater Fringed Gentian:

Stiff Gentian Stiff Gentian

It was also evident that there had been some Asclepias or Milkweed species blooming in the meadow earlier in the summer. The evidence of this is some exploding seed capsules, with the dark brown seeds and silky, white “parachutes” that will carry the seeds away at the slightest breeze:

Asclepias capsule releasing numerous seeds

Finally, there were a few occasions during this trip that I managed to do a face-plant into a spider web as I kneeled to set up the tripod. Turns out, there were many Argiope aurantia or Black and Yellow Garden Spiders in the center of webs that were stretched between the limbs of Winged Sumac and the tallest of the Greater Fringed Gentian flowers. This was not a pleasant experience for sure, although it should not have been unexpected.

Black and Yellow Garden Spider

I’m certainly glad I managed to hit the peak bloom of this wonderful and rare (for the Southeast) habitat. Too many of our botanical treasures are falling prey to development or to habitat changes that affect the water table. Perhaps a local or state conservation organization will move in and protect this unique site so that it can be enjoyed into the future. I might also mention that there are usually some Greater Fringed Gentian plants that grow along the access road, but the state DOT has seen fit to mow them down to the ground! I don’t blame the mowing crew, but I do blame their supervisor who has been told about these rare plants. Until someone in authority understands these things, then the destruction will continue…

I will look forward to visiting this special site again, next year, provided that the Greater Fringed Gentian flowers have not been replaced with manicured fescue…

Until next time,

–Jim

11 comments


  • Lovely photos and I enjoyed reading the poems. In cloudy Upstate NY, it is hard to find days when the greater fringed gentians are actually open! Glad you were able to get good shots in the sun.

    October 05, 2018
  • John D. Fowler

    Just Amazing! Mind-bogglingly amazing.

    October 05, 2018
  • Diane

    Wow. Very nice

    October 05, 2018
  • J

    My orange milkweed also had numerous orange/black bugs. What is their purpose? Beautiful photos.

    October 05, 2018
  • David White

    Wow!!!!
    Surreal…magic carpet ride…..
    Incredible pictures of the Greater Fringed Gentian.
    Thanks
    David

    October 05, 2018
  • Gorgeous photos, Jim! The Fringed Blue Gentian is one of my favorite flowers. I was lucky to find a small population of these outside of Baltimore when I lived in that area. I was just starting to study botanical illustration and did some field sketches of them and later on a painting. Here’s a link to the posting of my field trip: https://mazastudio.blogspot.com/2011/10/excellent-adventure-at-soldiers-delight.html
    the finished painting:
    https://mazastudio.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-rare-fringed-blue-gentian.html

    October 05, 2018
  • Laurie

    How diminished Life would be without the hope of finding this flower. That such an astonishing color can be captured and conveyed is poetry.

    October 05, 2018
  • Linda Francis

    Your photographs capture the electrifying beauty of these gems! Spectacular shots of an amazingly beautiful flower!

    October 05, 2018
  • Jerry Chamness

    Beautiful, Jim. Wonder if they (Greater Fringed Venetian) would grow here in Columbus, Georgia? Probably not. Supposed to be 96° here today. 😔

    October 06, 2018
  • Phil Draper

    Incredible blue! Bluer than your eyes even. Poetry is a beautiful addition. Thanks, Jim!

    October 09, 2018
  • Shannon

    As always Jim, captured with devotion and artistry.
    Having visited this site personally, I hate to think of its possible demise. The sacredness of people and places must have proper interpretation and we must have places of this calibur of enchantment and Wonder in their defining….this is certainly one of those roadside locations.Unfortunately, it is ever the more vulnerable to those who have lost their eye to see beyond the bottom dollar. I pray someone may know what they posess upon their possible purchase.Thank you for preserving them through these amazing images…

    October 11, 2018

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