The White Prairie Gentian is a sprawling, perennial flowering plant that can reach heights of up to 90 cm. The leaves are large, smooth, oval-shaped, and yellow-green in colour. The leaves are also arranged in an opposite pattern. White Prairie Gentian can have up to 12 stems, with dense clusters of white to greenish-white bottle-shaped flowers on the end of each stem. This species produces seed pods that break to release hundreds of winged seeds to be dispersed by wind.
Habitat and Biology:
The White Prairie Gentian’s range spans across Eastern North America. Its U.S range extends from Pennsylvania, Ohio, southern Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the north to Iowa, eastern Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma in the west to Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia in the south. The Canadian population of White Prairie Gentian is believed to occur only in the oak savannas on the Walpole Island First Nation in southern Ontario. Historically, there were populations on the limestone alvars in Northumberland County and Essex County, but they have not been seen for over a century. The White Prairie Gentian is believed to be extirpated from The Land Between, meaning that it was once known to occur here, but no longer does. This also means that there is potential for the species to occur here again in the future, if the appropriate actions are taken. The range of this species in Ontario is not believed to have changed since it was initially assessed by COSEWIC in 1991, despite searches in 2008. Less than 3% of the original Ontario prairie habitat on which the White Prairie Gentian depends remains in existence today.
In Canada, White Prairie Gentian has very specific habitat requirements since it grows exclusively in oak-hickory savannas and limestone alvars. White Prairie Gentian requires an open, dry, sunny environment, thus relying on natural forest fires to prevent vegetation growth and canopy closure. White Prairie Gentian is almost exclusively pollinated by Bumblebees, and flowers from mid August to late September. Closed-bottle shaped flowers are believed to be designed to limit self-fertilization, so as to enhance the genetic diversity of the population as much as possible. The fruit pod splits in early October, releasing winged seeds that are distributed by the wind. Seedlings are strong and fast growing but need approximately three months of cool, moist conditions to grow.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
The only known remaining population of White Prairie Gentian is being closely monitored, and the viability of the remaining seeds are being studied. In 2009, the Walpole Island Heritage Centre acquired some of the prairie savanna habitat on which the White Prairie Gentian is found for conservation, protecting the acquired section from habitat degradation as a result of human development or other activities.
In 1998, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry published a Recovery Plan for Tallgrass communities in Ontario. The plan, which is still in use today, outlines an approach to conserve tallgrass ecosystems as a whole, and in so doing protect the hundreds of species that depend on them to survive. Tallgrass Ontario, a non-profit dedicated to realizing the goals and objectives of the Grassland Community Recovery Plan, has a great deal of resources for landowners and the general public on the importance of grassland communities, the species that depend on the landscape, and resources for what landowners can do to protect and support the grassland habitat on their property. For more information on this organization, visit https://tallgrassontario.org/wp-site/.
Government of Ontario. 2014. White prairie gentian. Retrieved from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/white-prairie-gentian
Government of Ontario. 2016. White Prairie Gentian Recovery Strategy. Retrieved from: https://www.ontario.ca/page/white-prairie-gentian-recovery-strategy
COSEWIC. 2001. COSEWIC assessment and update status report on the White Prairie Gentian Gentiana alba in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vi + 13 pp. https://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_white_prairie_gentian_0911_eng.pdf
Tallgrass Ontario. N.d. Recovery Plan. Retrieved from: https://tallgrassontario.org/
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