A perennial herb of open, often stony, limestone grassland and calcareous glacial drift. It is also found on hummocks in calcareous flush communities, and in Ireland also on limestone pavement and fixed dunes. Upland in England, ascending from about 350 m to c. 730 m on Little Fell (Westmorland), but lowland in Ireland on the Burren (Co. Clare) down to near sea level.
There has been no appreciable change in distribution of this species since the 1962 Atlas, but numbers have declined, particularly in outlying populations. Overgrazing in the uplands is a continuing threat to this species in Britain.
European Arctic-montane element; also in C. Asia.
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 5
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 22
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: 0.21
RDB Species Accounts
Gentiana verna L. (Gentianaceae)
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Near Threatened. WCA Schedule 8.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
G. verna is a plant of upland limestone grasslands in which Festuca ovina is normally the dominant grass, and Carex caryophyllea and Thymus polytrichus frequent associates. Sesleria caerulea is also a regularly recorded component of these species-rich swards which are often home to other plants of restricted distribution. On Little Fell in Cumbria, for example, G. verna and Myosotis alpestris grow together in short turf at an altitude of over 700 metres. Plants also occur occasionally on hummocks in turfy marshes. The ecology of G. verna is discussed in Pigott (1956).
It is a perennial evergreen herb producing extensive loose mats of leaf rosettes each borne terminally on a branching stolon system. This usually lies just beneath or within the carpet of bryophytes and dense turf in which G. verna grows. Such a growth form makes it very difficult to estimate population sizes, as counts of rosettes considerably over-estimate the number of genetically distinct plants. These grasslands are frequently very heavily sheep-grazed with most flowers removed before seed-set, and mature capsules are rare in most populations. It is likely therefore that some 'populations' could consist of just one or a few clonal individuals.
In Britain G. verna is restricted to a small area of the northern Pennines on the borders of Co. Durham and Cumbria where, however, it is locally frequent. Within a range extending just 18 km north to south and 15 km east to west, it has been recorded in more than 50 1 km squares since 1970. G.G. & P.S.Graham (1993a) confirmed its continued presence at most of its known localities in Co. Durham. The origin of plants recorded by the Tees near Darlington (Baker 1906) is unknown.
Overgrazing of some populations has undoubtedly occurred over many years, and yet some of the counts of healthy rosettes remain substantial. Nonetheless the slow attrition of these populations must be an ever present threat at such high grazing levels. The suppression of flowering is evident when impressive displays of flowers growing within enclosures are compared with the general paucity of bloom. If the level of grazing is sufficiently light, the flowers appear mostly in May (though sometimes in April at the lowest sites, and not until June at the highest), but open fully only on sunny days. Seed is shed as soon as it is ripe in late June and July, and germination normally takes place in the spring (Elkington 1963). This attractive plant has been grossly over-collected in the past.
G. verna (several subspecies) ranges through the uplands of central and southern Europe, through the Balkans to the Caucasus and Iran, the mountains in central Asia (including the Tien Shan and Altai ranges) to northern Russia. It also occurs in Morocco. It is a highly polymorphic species worldwide, and includes a number of geographically well defined and widely disjunct sub-specific taxa. British and Irish populations are now included within the widespread ssp. verna which also occurs throughout the uplands of central and southern Europe. Though plants in Britain and Ireland have become morphologically differentiated, such differences are not considered to be taxonomically significant, even at varietal level (Elkington 1972).
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
1963. Biological Flora of the British Isles. No. 91. Gentiana verna L. Journal of Ecology. 51:755-767.
1997. A Flora of Cumbria.
1986. Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
1978. Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
1999. British Red Data Books. 1. Vascular plants, edn 3.