Gentianella anglica

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaGentianaceaeGentianellaGentianella anglica


An annual or biennial herb of shallow calcareous soils, especially on the chalk, in closely grazed calcareous grassland, quarries, on cliff-tops and sand dunes. Lowland.



World Distribution


© M. Cotterill, IWNHAS

Broad Habitats

Calcareous grassland (includes lowland and montane types)

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 3

Reaction (Ellenberg): 8

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 2


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 4.1

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.1

Annual Precipitation (mm): 812

Life form information

Height (cm): 20

Perennation - primary

Biennial, including monocarpic perennials

Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 113

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.32

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Gentianella anglica (Pugsley) E. Warb. 

Early Gentian

Status: scarce

WCA Schedule 8 species



This is a plant of sparsely vegetated base-rich parched grasslands. It is found in localities such as cliff tops, dunes, coastal slopes, south-facing chalk downs or mineral workings where bare ground is maintained by trampling, grazing, soil creep, exposure to wind and insolation. It usually grows in old established grasslands but it is also found on ancient and modern earthworks, including tumuli and 1940s rifle butts, chalk rubble dumped on lowland grazed heathland, and arable land which has reverted to grassland within the last 150 years. It is confined to the lowlands.

This plant is an annual which usually germinates in spring. It is an opportunistic species whose numbers fluctuate from year to year. Fluctuations probably reflect the relative abundance of bare ground for germination and soil moisture conditions. The reappearance of plants after apparent absence suggests that the seed is viable for a number of years. Many extant colonies consist of only a few irregularly appearing plants.

Genuinely large colonies are almost wholly confined to the Isles of Wight and Purbeck and the coast of North Devon and Cornwall. Away from this area the species has suffered a marked decline, presumably caused by the widespread destruction of calcareous grassland and the changing character of the remaining sites. Most fragments of surviving grasslands are unsuitable as the cessation of traditional grazing regimes has allowed rank grassland and scrub to replace the closely grazed swards required by this species. Populations within SSSIs and nature reserves are still threatened because of the practical difficulties of grazing grassland fragments, cliff edges and coastal slopes. There is also a difficulty within fragmented sites in balancing the requirements of this species with other species worthy of conservation.

G. anglica is endemic to England and has recently received special protection under Appendix I of the Bern Convention and Annexes II and IV of the European Community Habitats and Species Directive. It is also protected under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). 

This gentian is found as two subspecies. Subsp. anglica is confined to chalk and limestone, whereas subsp. cornubiensis is found on cliff top grasslands and calcareous dunes in Devon and Cornwall. Subsp. cornubiensis produces fertile hybrids with G. amarella in some sand dune sites (Margetts 1987). There are no suggestions that subsp. anglica has been known to hybridise with G. amarella, the flowering periods being distinct.



C. Chatters

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (210a)
Rich (1997a)
Rich TCG, Holyoak DT, Margetts LJ, Murphy RJ
1997.  Hybridisation between Gentianella amarella (L.) Boerner and G. anglica (Pugsley) E. F. Warb. (Gentianaceae). Watsonia. 21:313-325.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.