Earlier in the year I posted about some strange behavior seen by European honeybees on one particularly fecund seedling in the FRCC test plot. They seemed to be trying to pry sepals apart to get to the nectary chamber, formerly only accessed by hummingbirds.They succeeded!
After working and working, tag-teams of the bees managed to separate the sepals at the broadest diameter of the flowers, as shown in the first picture, and get at the nectar. The opening shows the visible bruising consistent with the forcing apart of the sepals. Keep in mind that bees exploiting the blossoms this way are not pollinating the flower, because they have no contact with the anthers. Free-loaders!
This “tutorial” seedling, which showed great vigor and stamina, has been named ‘Bee Happy’. We will be propagating it for sale. The flowers, in the typical “bonnet” shape, are rosy-mauve in color, with the exterior fading to silver as the flowers age. We assume it to be a pitcheri x crispa cross, and it is lightly fragrant, but shows no crispate edges. We’ll be sending more details to Clematis on the Web, and will be registering the name with the RHS clematis registrar.
The bees seem to know there is nectar in these blossoms, but there isn’t room for them to crawl up into the flower—the bees are too big, and the stamens too tightly packed. Undaunted, the bees attempted to separate the seams between the sepals, using forelegs and mouth parts to try to pry an opening to access the nectar. I watched their efforts for about 10 minutes before realizing I should be taking pictures! During the time I observed the honeybees, I didn’t see any of them succeed in opening the sepal edges, and was surprised that the bees would expend so much energy trying. A couple of rows away, native bumblebees were feasting on a Clematis macropetala seedling’s flowers (the same plant that Killdeer’s nested under a year ago), an open bell much easier to navigate in, and a flower not exploited by the hummingbirds.
Why would so many non-native bees be trying so hard to crack these clematis blooms? I did detect a slight fragrance, but there are many easier plants to drink from nearby. If these bees are ever successful at opening clematis in this nontraditional way, I’ll let you know.