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biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Family: Gentianaceae (gentians)

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Eudicotyledons > Core Eudicots > Asterids > Euasterid I > Order: Gentianales

About 87 genera and 1655 species, with a nearly worldwide distribution. Ten genera and 83 species are native to southern Africa, there are no naturalised species, and a further four genera and 11 species are cultivated in the region.

Genera native to southern Africa

List from Plants of Southern Africa - an Online Checklist (SANBI).


About 50 species, native mainly to tropical Africa, Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands. Two species native to southern Africa: Anthocleista grandiflora (see Flora of Zimbabwe) and Anthocleista liebrechtsiana. Anthocleista in the past has been more commonly placed under the family Loganiaceae.

Anthocleista grandiflora


One species native to southern Africa - Canscora diffusa (recorded from Zimbabwe).


About 30 species, native to tropical and subtropical Africa and Madagascar, with 17 species native to southern Africa.

Chironia ?tetragona


Three species, one from America, one from Madagascar and one from Africa and Asia. The latter species is Enicostema axillare (see Flora of Zimbabwe) and is native to southern Africa.


About 65 species, native to Madagascar, Socotra, Sri Lanka, southern India, SE Asia, New Guinea, Australia and Africa. Two species, Exacum oldenlandioides and Exacum zombense (recorded from Mozambique), are native to southern Africa.


Seventeen species throughout tropical Africa, of which three are native to southern Africa.


Three species, native to tropical Africa, with one species, Neurotheca congolana native to southern Africa (KwaZulu-Natal and Mozambique).


One species, Orphium frutescens, endemic to the Western Cape. 

Orphium frutescens


One species, Pycnosphaera buchananii, native to tropical Africa and extends into southern Africa (Zimbabwe and Botswana).


About 159 species, native mainly to Africa and Madagascar but with one species extending to India and China and two in Australia and New Zealand. There are 50 species native to southern Africa.


About 100 species, native mainly to Europe and America, but with four species native to southern Africa. 

Other genera, cultivated in southern Africa

List from Glen (2002).


Two species cultivated: Centaurium erythraea (Common centaury) (native to southwestern Europe) and Centaurium scilloides (Perennial centaury) (native to the Azores and western Europe).



Two species cultivated: Exacum affine (Arabian violet) (native to Socotra) and Exacum trinervium (native to Sri Lanka).


Eustoma grandiflorum (Lisianthus, Prairie gentian)

Native to south-central USA and Mexico.



About 400 species, native to mainly alpine areas of the north temperate regions, northwest Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Six species and a hybrid species are cultivated in southern Africa.



  • Glen, H.F. 2002. Cultivated Plants of Southern Africa. Jacana, Johannesburg.