Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gentians and bumblebees

A botanical highlight of last weekend's foray into the depths of Adams County was catching peak bloom of the Stiff Gentian, Gentianella quinquefolia. This species has a spotty, localized distribution in Ohio, and prefers rather barren openings. There's a ton of it along the start of the trail to Buzzard's Roost Rock, which is one of the Buckeye State's essential hikes.

The curious bluish-purple flowers look as if they're made out of paper, and the pointed petals often cover the mouth of the corolla.

Most wildflowers are dependent upon the physical transfer of pollen to another plant, and this usually involves the assistance of insects. In the case of gentians, bumblebees are often the dispersal agent. These big brutish bees are perhaps Nature's ultimate pollinating machine. Their size and strength allows them to forcefully push into semi-closed flowers - like gentians - and access pollen that is off limits to lesser insects. It didn't take long before I saw a bumblebee busily making the rounds of the Stiff Gentians, and I set out after it to try to capture some pollination pictures.

The bumblebee has located a flower that has piqued its interest. The color of the corolla and its striped nectar guides are irresistible and the bee is drawn in like a moth to a flame.

After a bit of fumbling about, the animal manages to force its face into the maw of the flower.

A few wriggles and buzzes, and the bumblebee is swallowed up by the gentian flower, eagerly harvesting the nectar at the base of the bloom. Its fuzzy body will get doused with pollen, and then it's off to another flower, thus serving as an effective agent of cross-pollination.

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