Thursday, September 28, 2017

A very rare gentian, with distorted interpretation

An autumn meadow in the Oak Openings near Toledo glows on a gorgeous fall day. The brilliant scarlet foliage of Winged Sumac, Rhus copallina, contrasts with the cobalt inflorescences of one of Ohio's rarest plants, the Soapwort Gentian, Gentiana saponaria.

I'd not seen these gentians in many years, and have been fortunate to twice renew my acquaintance with them over the past week or so. This state-endangered species is known only from a few locales within the Oak Openings of Lucas County, a globally rare ecosystem full of imperiled flora and fauna. While I've made scores of visits to the Oak Openings over the years, I'd not spent much time there recently, and needed to atone for that.

Soapwort Gentian, in portraiture. The odd bullet-like flowers of these strange plants are pollinated primarily by large bumblebees in the genus Bombus. The flower "petals" (plaits) are fused together, forming a botanical bag with only one entry point - the summit. Even there, entry is challenging, as there is but a tiny opening, or pore, and the pollinating insect must be powerful enough to force its way inside.

I had really hoped to catch a bee in the act of pollinating one of these gentians, but no such luck. You may wonder what the enticement is for the bee to go to fairly great lengths to enter the flower. Well, the inside of the plaits are boldly striped with colorful lines - nectar guides - and the bee sees those through the exterior of the bloom. Their visual allure is great, and the bee eventually forces its way inside, and then contacts the pollen, gets a dusting, and also deposits pollen from previous visits on the flower's stigma, or female parts.

I decided to create a bit of photographic abstractions with the soapworts, which in my opinion lend themselves to artistic expression.

Another take on the soapwort.

This is yet another of Ohio's rare gentians, the Fringed Gentian, Gentianopsis virgata, with creative liberties unapologetically taken. The gentians rank high among our most beautiful wildflowers, and several species have become quite rare due to habitat loss. I've been fortunate enough to catch up with four of the true gentian species this autumn, and hope to add yet a few more species before fall chills into winter.

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1 comment:

Lisa Greenbow said...

This gentian is exquisite and your photos render a most pleasing affect.