Triosteum aurantiacum (Early Horse Gentian)

Plant Info
Also known as: Orange-fruited Horse Gentian, Scarlet-fruited Horse Gentian
Family:Caprifoliaceae (Honeysuckle)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:part shade, sun; rich woods, thickets, woodland edges
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:2 to 4 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: irregular Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: whorled

[photo of flowers] Clusters of 2 to 6 stalkless, tubular flowers in the leaf axils. Flowers are brownish purple to dull red or lighter pink, ½ to ¾ inch long. Blossoms open up and angle outward mid-tube, ending in 5 round somewhat flaring lobes, with a light green style usually extending out of the tube to about even with the tips of the petal lobes, sometimes shorter, rarely longer. The yellow stamens remain recessed below the lobes. The 5 sepals are long and narrow, purplish in the center and may be longer than the flower. Both sepals and petals have soft velvety hairs, often glandular.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves  are opposite, long and broad, 5 to 10 inches long, 2 to 4 inches wide, broadly oval elliptic, the edges toothless, the surfaces softly hairy, especially on the underside, tapering to a sharp tip and abruptly narrowing at the stalkless base. Leaf pairs are at right angles to the pair below. The stem is unbranched, covered in soft, often glandular hairs usually at least .5millimeters long.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruits are round to egg shaped, 1/3 to ½ inch long with the 5 long sepals arrayed from the end. The fleshy coat, turning a bright orange red when ripe, covers 3 large hard seeds in the center (drupe).


Early Horse Gentian grows in rich soils of Minnesota's eastern hardwood forest biome. Sharing its habitat is Late Horse Gentian (Triosteum perfoliatum), which is similar in most regards except its leaves are broader at the base, leaf pairs usually connected at the base completely encompassing the stem (perfoliate), and its fruit matures to a orange yellow. Many references note that its style extends conspicuously beyond the petal lobes while in T. aurantiacum the style is even or within the lobes. This is not always reliable however as our own flower images show examples of the style exerted well beyond the lobes. Both are finely hairy throughout but in Late Gentian the hairs are usually .5 mm or less in length and in Early Gentian they are usually 1 mm or more in length. While lore has it that seeds were roasted and used as a coffee substitute, there is little evidence it was widely utilized in this manner and more likely the reputation simply came from the observation that the dried seeds bear a resemblance to coffee beans. Some references list several varieties of T. aurantiacum but these are not recognized in Minnesota.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Kettle River SNA, Pine County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Pine and Winona counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Ann L - Todd County
on: 2017-06-07 18:25:51

I have found this growing at the edge of a woodland in Todd County. The leaves are quite distinctive.

Posted by: Bonnie W - Mower Co., Red Rock township
on: 2017-10-24 13:11:49

Found this plant on both sides of our creek in Mower County. I've never noticed it when it was in flower but it is hard to miss it now, when it is in seed. Definitely the early horse gentian as it has 3 seeds in the pod or seed head.

Posted by: Elizabeth Tiller - Dakota County, Eureka Twp, near Chub Lake
on: 2019-07-07 21:05:18

Growing in ditch by road (257th St.)

Posted by: .Feierabend Suzann - Crosby
on: 2020-06-16 15:53:18

found it growing at the edge of my yard and find it interesting. I will be moving in August and would like to dig it up and bring it with me. Any advice?

Posted by: Ben Hansen - Pine Island
on: 2020-08-26 19:29:30

Growing on a hillside we had seeded with a wildflower mix. This was not an original part of the mix but showed up this year.

Posted by: Gayle Prest
on: 2021-10-06 18:59:46

located in Southern Chisago County close to St Croix River

Posted by: Daren L Maas - Webster
on: 2022-08-07 19:45:27

Moved here last year, just discovered this plant on my property in Rice County, near Webster, so far just one location, with 5 stems.

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