COMMON CENTAURY

Centaurium erythraea

Gentian Family [Gentianaceae]

month8jun month8june month8jul month8july month8aug month8sep month8sept month8oct

status
statusZnative
 
flower
flower8lilac flower8mauve flower8pink
 
flower
flower8white
 
inner
inner8cream
 
inner
inner8yellow
 
morph
morph8actino
 
petals
petalsZ5
(4)-5
stem
stem8square
 

27th July 2012, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Common Centaury is by far the commonest Centaury.


2nd July 2009, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast Photo: © RWD


27th July 2012, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
This specimen strangely is very asymmetrical with some branches longer than their opposite counterparts and other branches missing altogether. Common Centaury grow taller than other species, up to 50cm high (although not as high as this one which was held aloft by your Author to get a better photo).


27th July 2012, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The calyx tubes are on either short or no stalks on Common Centaury and are crowded together in tight clusters.


27th July 2012, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The calyx on Common Centaury is usually less than 3/4 as long as the corolla tube (the lower parts of the flower). The straw-coloured petals are decaying.


27th July 2012, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The two stigmas on a single style vary from narrowly-rounded to nearly-conical at the apex. (There are 5 stamens on all Centaurium species plus two stigmas on a single style). An as-yet unopened flower sits snugly between the two outer flowers. The fawn coloured petals are withering.


8th Sept 2015, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Corolla lobes between 4.5 and 6mm long. Flower stalks either absent or very short.


8th Sept 2015, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
Five white stamens. An un-opened flower bud lurks in the shade.


8th Sept 2015, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD


3rd July 2010, Trowbridge, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The twisted golden-yellow anthers are straight to begin with but start to twist when the flower begins fruiting.


3rd July 2010, Trowbridge, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The twisted anthers, with grooves on the sides, resembling 'twizzles' sweets in miniature.


8th Sept 2015, near Marine Lake, Southport, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The two, here heart-shaped, yellow stigmas are short-fuzzy hairy and closely opposite each other. The anthers on all normal Centaurium species are inserted at the top of the corolla tube (except for those of the dwarfed variation of Common Centaury called var. capitatum where they are inserted at the bottom - see below)


7th June 2014, Gait Barrows, Lancs/Cumbria. Photo: © RWD


White varieties occur sporadically

8th July 2014, sand dune slacks, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
That is smooth but wet limestone pavement, not a lake. or waterfall. Several individual plants posing for their photographs. It is still early in the season for them to have branched fully or flowered. Typically for Common Centaury, the stem leaves are oval, opposite and well spaced on the stem.


8th July 2014, sand dune slacks, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
A white or very pale lilac coloured form is also quite common.


2nd July 2009, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast Photo: © RWD


8th July 2014, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast Photo: © RWD
White petals, some with a slight pinkish tinge. (As-yet unopened petals on right).


8th July 2014, Ainsdale, Sefton Coast Photo: © RWD
Most (if not all?) stems are square on Centaurium species. Some also appear to have slight flanges (or wings) on the corners.


The fruits

9th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD
The fruits on Centauries do not seem to be a diagnostic feature of Centauries; it is other features of the flowering plant which are diagnostic. But the fruits probably retain some of those characteristics of the flowering plant. Anywhere, here you go, these are what the fruits look like on Common Centaury.


9th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD


9th Aug 2014, Hightown, Sefton Coast. Photo: © RWD


Centaurium erythraea var. capitatum

[stamens inserted at base of corolla tube (not apex)]
Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone
This is the dwarfed mutant variety of Common Centaury - they have very dense inflorescences. They occur locally on the coasts of England and Wales.


Photo: (CC by 2.0) Geoff Toone
The anthers on all normal Centaurium species are inserted at the top of the corolla tube (except here for those of the dwarfed variation of Common Centaury called var. capitatum where they are inserted at the bottom).


Not to be semantically confused with: Annual Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) nor with Perennial Cornflower (Centaurea montana) or Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) or Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa) or Lesser Knapweed (Centaurea nemoralis) (now known as Chalk Knapweed (Centaurea debeauxii)) [plants whose scientific names are similar, but which are in a totally different Family altogether, the Daisy & Dandelion Family (Asteraceae)].

Easily mis-identified as : Seaside Centaury but that has narrower and strap-shaped basal leaves as the main identifying feature.

Hybridizes with :

  • Seaside Centaury (Centaurium littorale) to become Centaurium × intermedium which is found on the Sefton Coastline, on Walney Island and on the coast in Southern Anglesey.
  • Lesser Centaury (Centaurium pulchellum) to become Centaurium erythreae × pulchellum which is found in very few hectads.
It is not known if any of the above photos are of the hybrid(s) commonly found on the Sefton Coast, which your Author has named Intermediate Centaury for the purpose of this websites' Subject Index (but botanically only known as Centaurium × intermedium).

Some similarities to : Sticky Storksbill, Common Storksbill, Lesser Sea-spurrey and to Rock Sea-Spurrey which all have pink to lilac flowers with 5 petals that also happen to grow near the sea.

Many similarities to : besides other Centauries, the Gentians Autumn Gentian, Chiltern Gentian, Early Gentian and Dune Gentian all look very similar but have more purplish coloured flowers and at the centre of the flower a long fringed ring which are a lighter shade of mauve. Also, the anthers are not yellow in colour as they are for the other Centaury, Yellow Centaury (Cicendia filiformis) which are in differing Genera. Moreover, Yellow-wort has yellow flowers. The Gentians are in the same Family Gentianaceae as the Centauries and Yellow-wort.

Common Centaury is by far and away the most ubiquitous centaury. It grows up to 50cm high, but is very variable and can be as short as only 5cm in exposed places. Habitat is grassy places and grassy sand dunes. It hybridizes readily with Seaside Centaury (Centaurium littorale) and the hybrid is found extensively near the parents, especially on the Sefton Coastline.

For details of the sizes and differences between Common Centaury and they others, see the captions below the photos above.

The fruit is a cylindrical capsule.

SECOIRIDOIDS

It contains the intensely bitter tasting  Secoiridoid Glycosides Gentiopicrin (aka Gentiopicroside), Centapicrin, Deacetylcentapicrin, Decentapicrin A, B, and C, Swertiamarin, Secologanin, Centauroside and Gentioflavoside. Lacking nitrogen, none of these compounds are alkaloids.

Gentiopicrin has anti-malarial properties. Gentiopicroside inhibits Tumour Necrosis Factor (TNF) in laboratory conditions in mice. Dihydrocornin is also found in shrubs belonging to the Cornus Genus.



Dihydrocornin also occurs in two members of the Cornus shrubs, or Dogwood. The parent ketone compound, Cornin was previously known as Verbenilin and found in Vervain. Both Cornin and Dihydrocornin are secoiridoid glycosides. Dihydrocornin is a potent anti-fungal compound.




Apart from the aldehyde group, top centre, centauroside is a dimer.

PYRIDINE ALKALOIDS


Common Centaury may also contain traces of the pyridine alkaloids Gentianine, Gentianidine and Gentioflavine, but these are controversial, possibly being isolation artefacts.

The tincture of Common Centaury is bitter and is used in non-alcoholic bitter tonics in Europe and in alcoholic Vermouth formulations, particularly in USA, but it is usually blended with other bitter components because it contributes very little flavour by itself. Maximum concentration used is very low at about 8ppm, and usually much lower at 2ppm.


  Centaurium erythraea  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Gentianaceae  

Distribution
 family8Gentian family8Gentianaceae

 BSBI maps
genus8Centaurium
Centaurium
(Centauries)

COMMON CENTAURY

Centaurium erythraea

Gentian Family [Gentianaceae]

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