I decided for my first post to take a look at two of my favorite fall blooming plants that come from a family well known for their unique beauty, the Gentians, Gentianaceae. Click the photo's to see them in their original size for better quality and detail!
One of the first Gentians to bloom in Ohio is the Yellowish Gentian, Gentiana alba. Also known as Cream or Plain Gentian, it is listed as a threatened species in the state of Ohio only being currently found in Adams and Athens counties according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). I came across this species on the diverse and botanical wonderland that is the Edge of Appalachia preserve in Adams County, OH. The flowers look like small, white, football shaped tubes but are actually 5 petals that hardly open when they are in full bloom. The photograph above shows how tightly these 5 petal tips are wound. As the flowers mature the tips loosen just enough to allow this plants chief pollinator, the bumblebee, to pry apart the petals to access its nectar reward and in the process pick up and deposit pollen, thus pollinating the flower. The photographs below are an example of nearly mature blooms just starting to open.
The Yellowish Gentian resides in mesic prairies, savannas, grassy meadows and damp woods; which is where I found this particular population. A small seep from the side of the hill has allowed these plants to continuously receive the amount of moisture they need to survive. However with the natural progression and succession of nature in the forest opening these plants are at risk. Without management of this spot; such as clearing the understory and opening the canopy so these plants can receive their high quota of sunlight, these very rare and beautiful plants will disappear. Even more reason to manage this spot is the presence of two potentially threatened species: Tall Larkspur, Delphinium exaltatum and Lesser Ladies-tresses, Spiranthes ovalis, which I plan to discuss on a post in the future. That's three rare, state listed species all within a few feet of each other, a very good reason to give this area some attention!
The next species of Gentian is essentially a purplish blue version of the aforementioned Yellowish Gentian and shares some of its habits. Bottle Gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, is a gorgeous fall bloomer that is found in high quality wetland areas such as moist prairies and forest openings, fens, moist thickets and swampy areas near bodies of water. Funnily enough I stumbled across a large colony off it in full bloom in a wet ditch along my road in Athens county, a welcome surprise!
These plants stand 1-2 feet tall at maturity and produce flower buds at the top of the stem as well as in the leaf axils on the upper sets of leaves. The flowers in the pictures are fully matured and are never seen open, hence their common name. Similar to the Yellowish Gentian, the Bottle Gentian has 5 petals whose tips are closed at the end. The inside of the flower structure exhibits the tiny fringing on the tips of the 5 petals as well as the stamens and pistil. Normally the stamens are up tight against the pistil but upon opening of the flower I caused them to spread out. The dark blue vertical lines on the inside of the petals serve as nectar guides for the pollinating bumblebees. The bees see them through the outside of the flower and know that inside lies a nutritious meal. The following photographs show the process of the bumblebee forcing his way inside the flower which was fascinating to watch in person. I found a comfortable spot to sit and waited patiently for a bumblebee to buzz close enough to my lens to capture his fascinating task. As the bumblebee breaks into the flower he disappears inside to collect his prize and upon satisfaction backs up and slides out of the flower and continues on to the next.
Many people complain about all the annoying, biting and stinging flying insects in nature and wish the world was rid of them. How regretful and sorry those people would be if their desire came to fruition. Without the bumblebees evolved relationship with the Bottle Gentian this plant would cease to exist and the bumblebee would be without a major food source. Such inter-relationships are vitally important to just about all flowering plants and the countless numbers of insects. Without those bothersome six legged fliers our world would be a much more bleak, barren and hungry place.
I hope you have enjoyed my first post and look forward to the many, many more to come covering all kinds of different flora and fauna! If along my journey I can get just one person to care and become interested in our natural world and the conservation, preservation and protection of it then I will have done my job. After all we are all just one person and look at the differences we, you can make!