My friends and I were deep in a local forest looking for some gentains (Gentianaceae), which bloom in late summer in New York. I had heard that there were gentians in the area so we walked along the road looking for potential habitats. We found a grassy opening and searched around for interesting creatures and plants. My two friends are entomologists, so they were looking at the last few monarch caterpillars munching on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca, Apocynaceae). I was following them toward the milkweed spot until I saw a glint of blue, a common color for native gentians in the Northeast. Once I walked over, I saw a patch of meadow bottle gentians (Gentiana clausa)!
Closed blue flowers that flower in late summer are indicative of bottle gentians (Gentiana clausa, Gentianaceae)
The meadow bottle gentians can be identified by flowers that never open and opposite (paired) leaves. If you carefully squish the flowers, you can see the fringes at the edges of the flowers. If it is a meadow bottle gentian, the edges have a few fringes (Go Botany: Gentiana clausa).
Meadow bottle gentians have a few lobes on the edge of the flowers (Gentiana clausa, Gentianaceae)
The specific epithet ‘clausa’ means closed, describing the flowers. Meadow bottle gentians do not open their flowers, even at maturity. Insect pollinators must be strong enough to force their way inside to gather nectar and pollen. Bumblebees are common pollinators as they have the size and strength to do so (Go Botany: Gentiana clausa).
These closed flowers prevent all but the strongest pollinators from entering (Gentiana clausa, Gentianaceae)
This species is found in diverse habitats, including disturbed areas, floodplains, forests, meadows, and fields (Go Botany: Gentiana clausa). Meadow bottle gentians are found from Maine and Quebec south to North Carolina, and west to Tennessee and Ohio (USDA Plants: Gentiana clausa). This species is listed as a species of concern in Rhode Island and exploitably vulnerable in New York (Go Botany: Gentiana clausa, USDA Plants: Gentiana clausa).
The meadow bottle gentians were growing in an open field, which is maintained by mowing (Gentiana clausa, Gentianaceae)