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Turtlehead Flowering & Being Pollinated By Bumblebees

8-14 turtlehead 073Turtlehead, Chelone glabra, a member of the Plantain family (Plantaginaceae), can be found growing along stream banks and wetlands throughout eastern North America. Its long arching upper lip, or hood, overlaps the lower lip like a turtle’s beak, giving Turtlehead its common name. The male parts of the flower mature before the female parts, and when pollen is being produced these lips are very hard to pry open. Pollinators are primarily bumblebees, which are some of the only insects that have the strength to open the flower. When the female pistil matures, the lips relax a bit, so entry is easier, but access to the nectar at the base of the flower is restricted (by a sterile stamen) to long-tongued insects. Thus, it is specifically long-tongued bumblebees that are able to both enter the flower and to reach the nectar. If you look on the sides of the flowers, occasionally you will find where impatient bumblebees have chewed through to the nectar, avoiding the struggles involved in entering the flower in the traditional manner.

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6 responses

  1. cannjen

    Beautiful pictures!

    August 17, 2015 at 7:42 am

  2. Jennifer Waite

    Wow, great pics Mary! I especially like the “head first and all in” shot, haha!

    August 17, 2015 at 10:12 am

    • It is a pretty amusing pose, isn’t it, Jennifer?

      August 17, 2015 at 5:06 pm

  3. Rae Tober

    I became a caterpillar breeder accidentally. The Baltimore Checkerspot is suppose to eat the Turtle heads but instead ate my Husker Red a Penstemon digitalis beardtongue plant. I even got the caterpillars to fly away in my effort to see if they were butterflies or moths. I have a poster that tells my story if you are ever interested.

    August 17, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    • I’d love to see the poster! ( One of next week’s posts is going to be on the Baltimore Checkerspot!

      August 17, 2015 at 5:07 pm

  4. I love the sound the bees make when they are inside.
    I can hear their muffled buzzing from a long way away and, now that I know the sound, it makes me laugh (especially on my pick domestic turtleheads).

    August 24, 2015 at 10:00 am

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