The pictured gentian in today’s post was Gentiana clausa, not G. andrewsii. These two species, both referred to as bottle gentian, are very similar, but there is one very distinctive difference. The flowers of both have 5 blue lobes forming petals that are fused together by a connecting fringe, creating folds between the outside of the petals. In G. clausa the petals remain closed at the tip with those fringes hidden by the closed tip. In G. andrewsii, the fringes of the flower lobes are longer than the petals and are visible at the tip of the closed flower. No visible fringes means today’s photograph is of Gentiana clausa. Thanks to Jon Binhammer for bringing this to my attention!
The combination of Bottle Gentian’s (Gentiana clausa) blossoms’ brilliant purple/blue color, their shape, and the difficulty insects have in prying open the bottle neck their petals form, make them a highlight of every September. Getting inside their flowers is a monumental task, and one that few insects, other than fairly large species of bumblebees, attempt — much less accomplish. It takes several seconds of pushing, shoving and cramming to get their head through the miniscule opening at the top of the blossom. Eventually their body follows, sliding down into the flower. While the whole bee sometimes disappears, it’s more usual to see their hind legs poking out of the flower while they lap up nectar. Not only are bumblebees strong, but their tongues (see insert) are long enough to reach the copious amount of sugar-laden nectar that awaits them inside the flower.