Bottle Gentian

colored pencil drawing of blue bottle gentians
Bottle Gentian, Gentiana andrewsii

Bottle Gentians: A Bold Choice

Back in the day when the line between soda pop and medicine was blurred (i.e. the late 1800’s), a brash and bold soft drink was born—a soft drink with (and called) Moxie. Though the name proved more popular than the drink (it’s where the term ‘moxie’ comes from, after all), there are still places—mostly in Maine—where you can find the bitter, root-beer-like brew. And what gives the drink its unique, either-love-it-or-hate-it flavor?

Gentians. Specifically, the bitter extract of gentian roots.

Who’d have guessed?

It may seem counter-intuitive, given their bud-like appearance, but Bottle Gentians—which are unique among flowers in that they never open, and their nectar and pollen are trapped inside—are designed for bumble bees. Because the flower is tightly closed, rain and lesser insects can’t get in to raid the nectar, but bumble bees have the strength to force their way in through the fused petals, and they are amply rewarded for doing so. A bee can tell by the tip of the flowers if it has already been drained, so they don’t waste their energy on pollinated flowers.