Frasera speciosa

In comparison to yesterday’s Zeltnera muehlenbergii, Frasera speciosa is a giant. Individuals can reach heights of 2.5m (8ft), whereas yesterday’s species occasionally reaches 1m, but is often much shorter. There is an age difference, too. Zeltnera muehlenbergii has an annual life-cycle, meaning the individual plants germinate, grow, flower, fruit and die within the span of one year. Frasera speciosa is much different. Once thought to be a biennial (having a two-year life-cycle), David Inouye and Orley R. Taylor Jr. demonstrated that this species is actually a perennial, having a life span that can extend past sixty years (in Oecologia 47(2): 171-174, from January 1980: Variation in Generation Time in Frasera speciosa (Gentianaceae), a Long-lived Perennial Monocarp).

Another intriguing fact one can glean from their paper is that Frasera speciosa is monocarpic, meaning it flowers and fruits in only the last year of its life, spending the remaining decades and years as a mass of leaves. With a range of age before flowering, (minimum age roughly 20 years), how do individual plants ensure cross-pollination? Taylor and Inouye published a subsequent Ecology paper on this topic in 1985, Sychrony and Periodicity of Flowering in Frasera speciosa (Gentianaceae). In short, mature individuals within a population will synchronize flowering in 2-4 year intervals, so that there are peak years (to the extent of >90% of the mature individuals flowering) and low years. What prompts the synchronization is not detailed in these papers, but in some instances, the evidence suggests environmental factors.

One last point: why is it important to know the life-cycle of a plant? In the case of Frasera speciosa, knowledge about its life-cycle can help inform those who use it for economic purposes, e.g., harvesting its roots for medicinal purposes. There is a significant difference in what can be sustainably harvested from a species with a 2 year life-cycle vs. a species with a 20-60 year life-cycle.

Frasera speciosa is known by a suite of common names: monument plant, green gentian, and elkweed (follow links for additional details and photographs).

Frasera speciosa
Frasera speciosa

22 responses to “Frasera speciosa”

  1. Sheila

    Fascinating plant and write up.
    Another stunning pic. Thanks Daniel.

  2. Eric in SF

    Did I miss a name change? This looks like what I know as Swertia radiata:
    Stunning plant – even when out of bloom.

  3. Daniel Mosquin

    Ah, yes, I should have mentioned. Yes, also known as Swertia radiata, but I generally follow the taxonomic treatments of the USDA GRIN taxonomists: Frasera speciosa.

  4. Ruth

    Very interesting plant, and also, I loved your talk on Wednesday, Daniel. Great visits to Oregon.

  5. Eric in SF

    Ha – and I follow Jepson for plants found in California, which uses Swertia radiata!
    I need to photograph some of the amazing rosettes of immature plants this coming wildflower season. They’re really attractive.

  6. Patrick Gracewood

    Is this plant in cultivation at all? It’s beautiful but waiting 40+ for a garden bloom is too much. With all cultural needs met would it bloom sooner?

  7. Daniel Mosquin

    As I suspected, Denver Botanic Garden has one living accession of the plant, accessioned in 2004. I doubt it would be available in cultivation.
    Hint: to search for plants in cultivation using Google, do:
    site:com “frasera speciosa”
    site:com “swertia radiata”
    That will restrict your searches to commercial sites (those using the .com domain)

  8. Dottie

    I was wondering why I saw so many blooming this summer in this one area I hike in the Wasatch Mtns.near SLC, UT. I never seen so many! Thanks for the explanation of their flowering. Awesome plant!

  9. kcflowers

    Beautiful plant. I want to revisit a topic from a few weeks ago: that of metric vs. American standard measurements. I thank-you for including the American measure in parentheses after the metric in this article. I am a scientist, so very familiar with metric system, but to help those who aren’t, having the American number in parenthesis will help people become more familiar with metric and be able to relate to the numbers. Maybe someday we will all use the metric system, but until that is the standard here, educating instead of berating is more helpful.

  10. Mary Ann, in Toronto

    I love this plant! The link labelled “monument plant” at the end of the write-up has a beautiful closeup of a white flower speckled with lavender, and mentions that Frasera speciosa, when in bloom, has about 600 flowers. What a lovely sight that must be.

  11. elizabeth a airhart

    just beautiful and under a full moon
    as we have tonight a glory sight indeed
    tis the wolf moon out tonight the largest
    for 2010 awesome in the flat florida sky
    so bright so large
    the species of the day for red list is
    sea clover our freeze killed off manatees
    and in our area alone over 1000 sea turtles
    they enjoy sea clover
    thank you and for the search help

  12. Alexander Jablanczy

    Synchrony obviously.
    Of course it depends on whether or not this is a scientific or a popular site.
    As this is obviously a scientific website as it uses correct Latin international terminology and taxonomic classifiçation the only correct mensuration to use is the SI.
    I do use in fishing lbs as a 5 lb fish is so much bigger than a mere 2kg one or in medicine when talking to patients you lost two lbs dear etc. But when talking ichthyology or laboratory science or pharmacology it’s strictly metric. None of this minims and drams.
    The US paid dearly for their folly in using imperial units when they crashed a billion dollar space vehicle on Mars due the nonsense of using baby talk miles and inches and garbled the two systems. Or rather one which is a system and the other one which isn’t.
    Astronomy also should be stricly metric or in special astronomical units.
    So botany is a science and should not talk baby talk.
    On the other other hand gardening is a popular pursuit and may use any unit for ordinary uneducated folk.

  13. Eric in SF

    Alexander – your facts may be accurate but your tone is incredibly disrespectful to everyone here.

  14. Don Fenton

    I agree with Eric on this! Both systems of mensuration have their advantages and disadvantages. I have, since school, used both together or seperately with little trouble, although I must admit that doing precise equivalents in my head is beyond me!

  15. Bonnie

    I am one of the ‘uneducated’ but enjoy this site any way. Maybe I won’t learn botany and at my age won’t retain information, but I appreciate the work done here and the bit I do learn and retain.

  16. elizabeth a airhart

    reductio ad absurdum
    leading logically to an absurd conclusion

  17. Zane

    That is lovely, gosh I wish I could go to different countries and bring back flowers/seeds!

  18. Alexander Jablanczy

    I love eating crow.
    rebeccalarkin.blogspot is a website which I have been sent just now. I never thought I would write nice things about the US Marines but in Haiti as she writes a Canadian officer refused to help her but the Marines did immediately and repeatedly. This is a non preachy church outfit from Abbotsford and the pictures show not just the devastation but hopeful signs of rebuilding by the Haitians themsekves and the smile on the face of the kids being fed…I also note the incredibly beautiful vegetation behind the rubble.
    Indeed any houses rebuilt by US and Canucks may be in inches if they withstand any more aftershocks. And the smiles may be measured in banana lengths. What’s metric?

  19. Barbara Kruse

    Thanks, Alex.
    I went to and the
    info was fantastic! The Marines were so wonderful
    (no surprise) but first hand account of what’s
    going on in Haiti

  20. Nick

    I am getting ready to attempt cultivation this spring… If there happens to be anyone with information regarding optimum germination conditions please let me know.
    And by the way, I hate metric!!! hah
    I guess I am one of the lesser commoners just wishing he knew all of the lab ins n outs and could stop walking round looking at flowers… 🙂

  21. Grace Ford

    Pleased to find this write up! Our nature library researches interesting “finds”. An elderly lady who’s walked many woods spotted this in an adjacent county, photographed all stages of growth and sent to our nature library for ID. We are in Kentucky!
    This lady (in her 70s) had never seen it before & my husbnad, a naturalist, who knows KY wildflower
    did not recognize it. Her photos match yours!

  22. Kurt

    We have one of these that flowered this year. Fascinating plant. The bees love it, & seem to get somehow “overcome” by the flower – they seem to flock to the plant. After a time, these bees seem to become “sleepy” – to the point that you acn touch them & their only reaction is to slowly crawl away…

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