The summer's flower is to the summer sweet.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 94
Ah, late summer: hot and sticky, soft, fragrant mornings, with roiling storms darkening the afternoon skies, drenching our backyards, and bringing on evening symphonies of katydids and cicadas. It’s the time for sunscreen and bug repellant, and for plenty of fresh produce, iced tea, snow cones, lemonade and late sunsets. Maybe a final visit to the beach. Everything must end though, and there are signs that summer is slipping away. Before it goes, we can still enjoy some late-summer flowers.
This plant is one of about 20 fairly closely related species in the “gentian” family; they grow in Canada, the eastern USA, and the western Caribbean. They include both annual and perennial species, all with opposite leaves. The flowers in the genus tend to be very showy, and thus they are popular on wildflower walks. Each flower has a green calyx with a short tube and five elongated lobes. The corollas are similarly equipped with a short tube, and then a number of very attractive lobes, which most people just refer to as “petals”, and depending on the species, these lobes may be white, pink or purple. Most species have five corolla lobes, while other species have 10 or 12. After pollination, the ovary swells into a tidy capsule, eventually releasing a number of tiny seeds. These various species grow in a wide variety of environments, especially forests and meadows, but there are some that like to grow in damp cypress savannas, or even brackish or salt marshes along the coast. They all love the summer, blooming like crazy until fall begins its steady, slow approach. These plants often lend themselves to cultivation, and gardeners will be interested in knowing that various species within this group are available on the market. Some of them really make a fine display as a member of a native-species garden.
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This particular species is a member of the group that has five corolla lobes, and they are pink. The flowers are slightly fragrant, and about an inch across, maybe a bit wider. At the base of each lobe is a small yellow or green blotch, with an outer red margin. The effect with all the five lobes is that of a central spot (or “eye”) which really makes the flowers pretty, with the five yellow stamens and an elongated greenish pistil. This species gets to be a couple of feet tall, and it sports bright green, egg-shaped leaves. Each leaf has a somewhat rounded base which lightly embraces or “clasps” the stem. The stems exhibit narrow little wings of tissue between the nodes, at least toward the bottom of the plant.
These plants grow practically throughout the Southeast. They can be seen in fields and roadsides, or powerline rights of way, usually preferring plenty of sun. You might see them these days as summer is waning, adding a touch of pink to a landscape that is starting to feature early goldenrods and asters.
Answer: "Bitter-bloom," “Rose-gentian,” Sabatia angularis
John Nelson is the curator of the A. C. Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina, in the Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia SC 29208. As a public service, the Herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit www.herbarium.org or call 803-777-8196, or email email@example.com.