Gentiana nivalis - Snow Gentian

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Equisetopsida - Order: Gentianales - Family: Gentianaceae

Snow Gentians, Gentiana nivalis, in Switzerland

A lovely annual mountain gentian, this species is a very rare sight in Britain. It is the county flower of Perthshire.


This species usually grows between 5 and 12cm in height. Its small tubular stalkless flowers terminate the brancing stems; they are typically 15mm long, each having five blue petals that flare at the top of the corolla. Unlike some members of the gentian family, there is no fringe of hairs at the throat of the flowers of Snow Gentians which, as with other gentians, are held erect. The broadly oval basal leaves are up to 10mm long, and there are narrower, smaller leaves in opposite pairs up the stems.


In Britain this wildflower is found only in the Scottish Highlands - on alpine Screes and short-sward grassland, on the slopes of Ben Lawers, in the Breadalbane Mountains, an area noted for rare alpine plants as well as more than 600 lichen species; and in Glenshee, Perthshire.

On mainland Europe, Snow Gentians can be found in alkaline alpine locations from Finland down to the Pyrennees. The pictures shown on this page were taken in Switzerland.

A lovely patch of Snow Gentians, Gentiana nivalis


Gentiana nivalis requires scree or short-sward grassland on chalk or on limestone; it favours areas exposed to full sunshine.

Blooming Times

Snow Gentians can be seen in flower from July to September..


Gentiana, the generic name, was given to this group of plants because reputedly in the 6th century King Gentia of Illyria used extracts from the roots of Yellow Gentian Gentiana lutea to cure his troops of malaria. The specific epithet nivalis means 'of snow'.

Similar Species

There are several other similar blue gentian species - for example Spring Gentian Gentiana verna, which is mainly an alpine plant but also occurs near sea level on Ireland's Burren limestone pavement; and, in North America, Gentiana parryi which grows in alkaline meadows in the Rocky Mountains.


This page includes pictures kindly contributed by Betty and Tony Rackham.

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