Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Gentianella campestris – field gentian


Distribution map

Click here to view an interactive map of the Northern Ireland dataset as currently collated by CEDaR.
The map is generated through the NBN Gateway using their Interactive Mapping Tool.


Gentianella campestris (L.) Boerner
Family: Gentianaceae

This small branching annual or biennial is found inland in short grazed grassland, usually on limestone, or near the sea it occurs on dunes or machair; the species also grows on the basaltic hills of Counties Antrim and Derry. It generally flowers between July and September. In Northern Ireland the number of hectads in which it has been recorded is 36 but it has only been seen in 13 of these since 1986. Much of this loss has been in inland sites.

In brief

  • The species is currently found largely at sites around the north coast and on the limestone areas of Fermanagh in the Derrygonnelly and Marlbank areas. Sites have been lost in Counties Antrim, Derry and Down
  • The species is found in short turf on limestone grassland, on dune systems, on machair and on basaltic slopes between July and September
  • The species is a Northern Ireland Priority species as it has suffered a serious decline in its known distribution
  • The maintenance of suitable grazing regimes and the continued low input management of its current sites are essential for the species continues existence in Northern Ireland
  • The decline in the rabbit population since the introduction of myxomatosis in the 1950s may have contributed to the decline of the species

Species description
Field Gentian is a low growing, branched annual or biennial with oval-lanceolate leaves and bluish purple flowers. It is distinguished from Gentianella amarelle (Autumn Gentian) by having a four lobed calyx and corolla, with the lobes of the calyx being very unequal, the broader outer ones overlapping the narrower inner ones; Autumn Gentian has a calyx with five equal lobes.

Life cycle
Regeneration is exclusively by seeds which germinate in the spring.

Similar species
The only similar species is Autumn Gentian which can be distinguished from Field Gentian by close examination of the calyx.

How to see this species
Field Gentian should be searched for from July through to early autumn in short grassland on limestone, sand dunes, machair and basaltic slopes.

Current status
Field Gentianís main strongholds at present are on the dunes and basaltic slopes of the north coast and in Fermanagh on the limestones about Derrygonnelly and the Marlbank.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?
The species is a UK Priority Species with a Biodiversity Action Plan and has suffered serious declines in Northern Ireland since 1986.

Threats/Causes of decline
Field Gentian has almost certainly suffered through changed management of grasslands and more intensive farming methods including the application of fertilizers and herbicides. The decline in grazing by rabbits may be a factor in the speciesí decline.

Conservation of this species

Current action
Some of the sites where the species occurs, as at the Marlbank and Monawilkin, are ASSIs.

Proposed objectives/actions
Ensure that the current population is maintained, and if possible increased, through appropriate habitat management.

What you can do
If you think you have found this species, contact your local Biodiversity Officer
The study of wild plants is an interesting hobby for anyone interested in the outdoors. The Botanical Society of the British Isles welcomes beginners to its field trips.

Further information

Northern Ireland Vascular Plant Database

BSBI species accounts

Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A., and Dines, T.D. (2002). New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Text written by:
Robert Northridge