Getting to see the gorgeous flowers of marsh gentian (Eustoma exaltatum) is always a delight. Its many common names — catchfly prairie-gentian, bluebell gentian, seaside gentian, blue marsh lily, small bluebell, and tulip gentian — belie its curious and extensive range from Florida to California and throughout the prairie as far north as South Dakota and Wyoming. It also grows in the West Indies, Mexico, and South America.
The photo above was taken at the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail (TRWT) on July 15, 2020, and we have seen this beautiful annual on the mosquito control dikes at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area. Flowering occurs throughout the year peaking from December through August.
Its 5-lobed, cup-shaped flowers have 5 to 7 petals that can be purple, blue, or white, but the center of the flowers is always dark purple. The genus name, Eustoma, refers to the this striking center, as eu means beautiful or good in Greek and stoma means mouth.
The flowers are 2 – 3″ across and are held on long stalks (peduncle) that can be up to 3′ long. The species name, exaltatum, means very tall, and likely references the long flower stalks.
Its opposite leaves are grey-green, elliptical, from 1 – 2 1/2″ long, and clasp the stem. They are shown below at the Maritime Hammock Sanctuary in an open disturbed area in full sun.
At TRWT, this annual or short-lived perennial is growing on the trail edges amongst yellowtop (Flaveria linearis) and other herbaceous wildflowers.