20b gypsum further up trail

SNAP*Shots: The Marvelous Monument Plant

What are those tall stalks growing in the meadows? Do you see them? Let’s explore.

This four- foot stalk is covered with small flowers, and the flowers are green with purple dots. They look more like they belong in subtropic areas of the world, not the meadows of Yellowstone. So unusual and so beautiful.

This is a Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa), also called the Monument Plant, and is monocarpic. No, I didn’t know what that was either, but it thoroughly explains this unique plant. Green gentian can live to be 80 years old, but each year of its life all you see are the pretty basal leaves growing a few feet tall and reaching to the sky until . . .

. . . the last year of its life when it produces a stalk from 4 to 7 feet tall covered with beautiful small ¬†flowers. The flowers range from pale green to white with purple or blue dots, but I’ve only ever seen the flowers in shades of green. This is the ¬†“monument” phase. Each flower produces up to 60 seeds ensuring the next generation. The plant then dies leaving the dead stalk which may stand a few years, as you can see above.

So “monocarpic” means growing many years without flowering, then flowering and dying after its seeds are developed. We may see many stalks across a meadow or only a few, but the stalks tell us that this is the last hoorah of this amazing monument plant.