Gentiana pneumonanthe

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaGentianaceaeGentianaGentiana pneumonanthe


A long-lived perennial herb of damp acidic grassland and wet heaths, usually on relatively enriched soils, and often where there is seasonal movement of surface water. The opening up of the habitat by grazing or occasional light burning favours this species by promoting flowering. Lowland.



World Distribution

Eurosiberian Temperate element.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 8

Moisture (Ellenberg): 7

Reaction (Ellenberg): 4

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 1


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.7

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.7

Annual Precipitation (mm): 806

Life form information

Height (cm): 40

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 130

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.31

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Gentiana pneumonanthe L.

Marsh gentian

Status: scarce



This plant grows in damp acid grassland and heathland in the lowlands, typically associated with Erica tetralix and Molinia caerulea. In the New Forest it is frequently associated with M. caerulea tussocks, growing where there is a seasonal steady movement of surface water, usually on relatively enriched soils. Plants grow out of the tussocks themselves rather than from the intervening swards (Tubbs 1986).

It is a long-lived perennial, having a mean life expectancy of about 20 years. Reproduction is by seed, with open conditions being required for seedling establishment. Flowering is variable between individuals and from year to year. Plants in more open conditions tend to flower more than those in denser vegetation. Enhanced flowering may occur in summers following a warm year, or after burning. Seeds do not remain viable for more than about 5 years. Survival depends upon plants persisting in a non-flowering state until climate or disturbance initiate flowering and the enhancement of the population.

While the limits of the distribution of this species have not changed, there has been a considerable loss of sites, and a reduction in the sizes of populations at extant sites. Losses have resulted from habitat destruction (e.g. by ploughing, drainage or afforestation) and by the reduction of grazing or of other physical disturbance on remaining heathland. Uncontrolled and excessive burning can also threaten the species. However, the plant may be more abundant on some sites than is thought as non-flowering individuals are difficult to locate.

G. pneumonanthe is distributed over much of Europe, from southern Scandinavia to the mountains of Spain, Italy and the Balkans, but is everywhere subject to similar losses and reductions as in Britain. It extends eastwards to central Asia. 

For detailed accounts of this species see Chapman, Rose & Clarke (1989) and Simmonds (1946).



S. B. Chapman

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 (208d)
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S, Weinert E
1978.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
Simmonds NW
1946.  Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 15. Gentiana pneumonanthe L. Journal of Ecology. 33:295-307.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.