Friday flower – Sabatia angularis

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/60 sec, f/22, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power w/ diffuser caps.

Photo details: Canon 100mm macro lens on Canon EOS 50D, ISO 100, 1/60 sec, f/22, MT-24EX flash 1/4 power w/ diffuser caps.

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.

REFERENCES:

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

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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19 Responses to Friday flower – Sabatia angularis

  1. DougT says:

    That’s a plant I have never encountered and have long wanted to see. A relative (Sabatia kennedyana) is a plant of special concern from the sand plains of southeastern Massachuetts, not far from where I grew up. Someday I’ll get to see a Sabatia in the wild.

    • Hi Doug – I hope you see these plants too, they are quite stunning. I still have yet to see the even more stunning downy or greater fringed gentians.

      Gentians, orchids, milkweeds… what’s a time-pressed entomologist to do?!

  2. troymullens says:

    Thanks for sharing this great flower. Our common Sabatia is campestris or Texas Star. angularis has only been reported in a few Texas counties. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for this beauty.

    Nice photo.

    It’s even worse for a Naturalist who is a generalist. So much to look at (closely) and so little time.

    To make matters worse, Martha and I started our 9 week program for certification for Texas Master Naturalist.

    Troy

    • Thanks, Troy. Now I’m wanting to find S. campestris in our western prairie relicts.

      I can’t imagine that you and Martha will do anything but ACE the master naturalist program!

  3. Moe says:

    Beautiful! Never seen them in Iowa.

  4. James C. Trager says:

    Sabatia angularis really did have a great year in our area, eh, Ted? It is curious to me that here at Shaw Nature Reserve, the population seems to be shifting, over the roughly 20 years I’ve been here, from one dominated by pink-flowered individuals to one decidedly dominated by white-flowered ones.

    Speaking of gentians that don’t look like Gentiana, etc., consider Swertia, pictured with an ant-mimicking beetle here.

    • Oo, I’d like to see the white-flowered ones – I wonder what is the basis of the shift you’ve been seeing.

      Swertia is gorgeous – what are those fuzzy patches for, nectaries?

  5. Hugh Nourse says:

    Your experience parallels mine this year. Where did all the Sabatia angularis spring from? How have I missed them before? There were great displays here in Wake County, NC, particularly at Shinleaf Park, B W Wells Park. They bloomed alongside Rhexia virginica and Hypericum hypericoides beside the Neuse River and the Falls Lake Dam.

    • Seems to be a common theme in many quarters. Seeing them has gotten me interested in looking for some of the other “true” gentians. So much to see, and only one lifetime to do it in!

  6. Hi Ted

    Lovely photo as always!

    Best regards, Trevor

  7. Pingback: Berry Go Round #20 « Further thoughts

  8. Linda Harmon says:

    I just moved to the mountains of western North Carolina and I found this gorgeous little flower growing on a high meadow. I love native plants and have been having a wonderful time with all the varieties of this area.

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