All Bottled Up

Bottle gentian (Gentiana clausa) is a beautiful late season bloom. Also sometimes called closed gentian, its unique flower never opens up – but stays closed like a bottle – hence its name.  Some customers at our nursery have asked “what does it do?”  and “when does it open?”  “This is what it does” I tell them. Most people seem to really like it – a few seem less than impressed with the flower not being showy enough.  I of course think they are fabulous – but then, blue is my favorite color and a own a native plant nursery, so of course I am slightly biased on the matter…

bee on gentian horizontal for web

A number of people also ask me “well how is it pollinated if it is all closed up?” A good question.  In reality, it isn’t entirely closed up. A strong bee can pry its way in.  According to Bill Cullina in his Wildflowers book – the petals have extra folds along their seams, like the bellows of an accordion, that expand to prevent the flower from ripping as the bee climbs inside. The things Mother Nature thinks of never cease to amaze me!

And by having to crawl inside each flower to pollinate it, they provide good cross-pollination from flower to flower. Gentian can grow in full to part sun.  Mine is in full sun, and so the leaves get bronzed instead of staying nice and green like they do in a bit more shade. There are a few species native to the US. Bottle Gentian is native to much of the Northeast and is a great choice for the garden.

In light of the recent news about the plight of bees from some new studies, and the findings that some plants being sold in big stores as ‘bee friendly’ are anything but!, I’m glad to see that the bees seem to be doing very well at our nursery and in our gardens – where we don’t pesticides such as the neurotoxic pesticides known as neonicotinoids that are toxic to bees. As Carole mentions in her post, if you buy plants at your local nursery such as ours, you can avoid buying plants that turn out to be toxic.

bee on bottle gentian series 1

figuring out how to get in

I felt like the bumblebee paparazzi, but I was really enjoying watching the bumblebees on the closed gentian in our garden the other day.  Here is a series of photos that show how they manage to push their way inside the bottle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bee on bottle gentian series 2

down he goes!

 

bee on bottle gentian series 3

there’s no turning back now!

 

bee on bottle gentian series 4

all the way in!

 

on his way back out

on his way back out

 

bee on bottle gentian series 6

out and ready for the next one!

© 2013, Emily DeBolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. James C. Trager says

    Um, that would be “Down SHE goes”.
    Nice post about one of my favorite plants and its pollination system. Here’s a bit more on this lovely natural history:
    Bumble bees are almost the only pollinators that visit closed gentians. (Other insects do visit the gentians with open flowers, though.) Regarding the matter of pronouns that started this comment, it has been my observation that male bumble bees do not visit the flowers of this plant. They also don’t gather pollen (used to feed the larvae), the pollen on the legs being a sure sign in your images that they depict a female. In this case it is a worker worker bumble bee. The young queens that will give rise to the following year’s bumble bee colonies do visit these flowers, but only go after the nectar, to fatten up for winter hibernation. They don’t gather any pollen in fall, since they will not have any babies to feed until the following spring.

  2. Emily DeBolt says

    James – thanks for the info! I did not know how to tell male and female bumblebees apart – but now I do!

  3. Carole says

    I read in Bumblebee Economics by Bernd Heinrich that the bumbles actually specialize on flowers. Some will get really good at getting the pollen from a complicated flower like your gentians and stick with that kind, becoming fast and efficient.

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