Hot pink in the hot summer sun. Bartram's rosegentian, Sabatia decandra, is no shrinking violet. It loudly announces its presence, ranking among South Florida's most beautiful wildflowers.
And also among the rarest.
It's found in open, sunny and damp places — wet pinelands, savannas and ditches. Its range includes most of Florida and in a few scattered counties in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
Bartram's rosegentian flowers from May to September. Most of the year, it's inconspicuous, with only a rosette of thick leaves as evidence that it's around. In spring, it shoots as high as two-and-a-half feet, standing tall in the panoply of meadow plants.
The flowers are large, two-and-a-half to three inches across. The scientific name, decandra, comes from the 10 petals that usually make up the flower — there can be as few as nine or as many as 12. Each petal has a bright yellow point outlined in red, forming a star shape in the center of the flower that's typical of rosegentians. The plants we saw displayed pink flowers but they do come in other shades, including, occasionally, white.
As we noted earlier, this is among the rarest flowers in South Florida. So much so that the Institute for Regional Conservation lists its status as imperiled. However, no state or federal agancy to our knowledge has classified it as threatened or endangered.
As beautiful as Bartram's rosegentian is, you'd think someone would cultivate it. No member of the Association of Florida Native Nurseries has ever offered it for sale. Some have tried to grow it — and failed.
By the way, the name honors John Bartram and his son, William Bartram, 18th and 19th century botanists who were among the first Europeans to describe the plants of the southeastern United States. The former scientific name of the plant, in fact, was Sabatia bartramii. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, however, still uses S bartramii as the proper scientific name, and S decandra as a synonym. There's also S dodecandra, yet another synomym.
Bartram's rosegentian is a member of Gentianaceae, a family of 1,600 species of flowering herbs, trees and shrubs named in honor of the llyrian King Gentius. Other common names include Bartram's pink marsh, ten petal marsh pink, large marsh pink, rose gentian, Bartram's rose gentian, rose-gentian and savanna pink.