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Closed Bottle Gentians and Hickory trees



Closed bottle gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, also known as bottle gentian or Andrew's Gentian, is a wild flower found throughout the northeastern half of the United States that grows in moist, rich soils either in full or partial sun. It can most likely be found in flood plain forests, thickets, fens, or other swampy areas near water. Gentiana andrewsii is a true gentian belonging to Gentianaceae. Gentiana was named after Gentius, the King of Illyria (it was a region in the western part of the Balkan Peninsula) who found that the roots of yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) had a healing effect on his malaria-stricken troops around 500 B.C. There are roughly 400 different species in the Gentian family. Bottle gentian is one of the most common perennial gentians and the easiest to grow in moist wildflower gardens. They are slow-growing but long-lived and require little care once established.

Closed Bottle Gentian plant in the flood plain of upper Tidbury Creek

Bottle gentian is a beautiful, showy wildflower that blooms from early August through October with 1 ½” violet, sometimes white, closed terminal cluster flowers. Smaller flowers can be present in the axils of the upper tier of leaves. The plant itself is an erect, 1-3 foot tall forb with a non-branching stem. The leaves are mostly stalkless, lance-shaped with parallel venation, and devoid of hairs. As the leaves move up the stem, they go from being opposite leaves to more of a whorled pattern.


This is why they're called Closed Bottle gentian.


Roots and leaves of the bottle gentian are bitter tasting to mammals and other herbivores, so they usually are not utilized as a food source. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are one of the few animals that may chomp off the tender tops of the plants before they have a chance to flower. In response to herbivory, the plant may produce side branches with flowers on them. The seeds are too small to be used by birds as a food source.

Some gentians are used in herbal medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to lower fevers, and as a liver tonic. It is also used as a gastric stimulant to treat a loss of appetite, digestive problems, flatulence, and insufficient production of gastric juices and saliva. Some are also used in the making of liquors and schnapps and is a key ingredient of angostura bitters.


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Delaware’s Hickory Trees


The genus Carya as applied to the hickories [was] in dispute by some botanists who [once applied] the genus name Hicoria, but the long-established usage of the former establishes its priority under International Code. According to Illick in “Tree Habits” the word “hickory” is believed to be the result of [an] English contraction of the Indian name of the tree “Powcohiscora” as first spelled by John Smith of the Virginia colony. Except for three species found in China, all other representatives of the genus are native only to North America.

Hickory leaves. Notice the 7 leaflets on this species.

Hickory fruit [nuts] mature in one season and consist of a bony-shelled nut covered by an unusually woody husk that splits open when mature. Inside, the eatable nut is either sweet tasting or quite bitter, depending on the specific species. Of the 10 to 15 species of hickory native to North America, and 3 to eastern Asia, 6 or 7 are found in Delaware. Source – “Delaware Trees,” W. S. Taber, 1939.


Here is a brief description of the 5 or 6 Carya species most likely to be found in Delaware:

Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) also known as swamp hickory, is primarily found in moist upland woods, floodplains and along streams in all three counties. In winter it can be distinguished from all other hickories by the bright yellow buds with scales in pairs that do not overlap one another. In summer look for the 7 to 9 narrow, lance-shaped leaflets that are hairy underneath. Bitternut is one of the most rapid growing and straightest of the hickories. The husk of the fruit (nut) has four ridges from the tip to about the middle and when ripe usually splits along those ridges exposing a smooth, thin shelled, light-colored nut about 1” in diameter. Inside is a shiny, but bitter kernel.



Mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa) also known as big bud hickory and white hickory, can be found in the woods of all three Delaware Counties. Throughout the south-eastern United States, the mockernut is the most common of the hickories. The name comes from the fruit that “mocks” the appearance of the shagbark fruit but, once the thick bony shelled nut is finally cracked, the small meat found inside proves not worth the effort. Usually has 7 or 9 leaflets.


Small-fruited hickory (Carya ovalis), also known as red hickory, small shagbark hickory, false shagbark hickory and small pignut hickory, is found in moist woods and slopes throughout Delaware. As you might guess, the common name comes from the small, although sweet, nuts. The tree resembles the pignut hickory in most respects, but it can be distinguished by its somewhat shaggy bark, hence another of the common names. Usually has 5 or 7 leaflets.


Pignut hickory (Carya glabra), also known as the brown hickory and smoothbark hickory, prefers hillsides and dry locations and is rarely found in wet places. In the summer the pignut hickory may be identified by the smooth leaves (usually 5 leaflets) and twigs. The nut of this species differs from that of the bitternut in being thick shelled.


Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), also known as shellbark hickory and common hickory.

They require rich, deep soils and, in Delaware, are primarily found in New Castle and the northern part of Kent Counties. It is rare on the coastal plain. The shell of the shagbark hickories are unusually thin and enclose a light brown, sweet, edible kernel. Usually has 5 leaflets, rarely has 7.


Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) are closely related to the hickories and, although they are NOT native to Delaware, they have been introduced here and there throughout the state. We live in central Kent County and we occasionally find a pecan nut lying in our yard. For the longest time it was a mystery to me where they came from, but I finally discovered a large pecan tree on Main Street in Woodside, a quarter of a mile (as a pecan-eating crow flies) from our house. Mystery solved.


With all that said, I find it difficult to positively identify most of the hickories. Except perhaps the Shagbark hickory if I ever came upon one, which I never have. Too bad, as they are said to have sweet nut-meats that are relatively easy to extract.

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