Centaurium erythraea

Gentian Family [Gentianaceae]

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31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Stems trifurcate at every juncture, with a pair of opposite pointed oval leaves just below the junction. Between 2cm and 50 cm tall, a wide range of heights. Flowers are numerous and often congested.

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Flowers a clear pink/lilac colour.

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

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
A single flower sits on the end of each pair of square stalks. A central flower is always the last to open, and is more or less stalk-less. This specimen has an aberrant extra flower (middle left). From above it looks like the leaves are perfoliate, with the stem passing right through them, but from the side it is evident that the leaves are a part of the lower stem and peel away from the lower stem: the lower stem ends there. The middle upper stem is not continuous or contiguous with that below the leaf, and neither are the two extra stems either side of it.

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
The flower extends about twice as long again from the end of the five sepal teeth, narrowing as it does so, before the petals abruptly splay out.

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
The five petals splay out from the yellowing to white narrowest part.

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
Five white stamens protrude bearing a long twisted golden-yellow anther each. A lemon-yellow partly-bifurcated stigma lurks nearby.

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
The white style splits into two lime-green stigmas near the apex.

3rd July 2010, Trowbridge, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Five white stamens. The twisted golden-yellow anthers are straight to begin with but start to twist when the flower begins fruiting. An un-opened flower bud lurks in the shade.

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
The five petals taper to a rounded point at the tip.

3rd July 2010, Trowbridge, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD

31st July 2011, Nob End, Clammerclough, Gtr M/cr. Photo: © RWD
The stems are square in the upper part of the plant. Leaves in opposite pairs just below a trifurcation.

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 commonly found on the Sefton Coast, 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 Centauries. 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 can be as short as only 5cm in exposed places. It is very variable, often dwarfed in exposed places. Habitat is grassy places and grassy sand dunes. It hybridizes readily with Seaside Centaury and the hybrid is found extensively near the parents, especially on the Sefton Coastline.

The fruit is a cylindrical capsule.


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.


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  

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Centaurium erythraea

Gentian Family [Gentianaceae]

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