Tales From the Test Plot, 2012

Posted by LindaB on Friday, August 10, 2012

Two years ago Swedish amateur clematis breeder Sixten Widberg, the man who bred ‘Sixten’s Gift’ and gave it to FRCC, and also the creator of Clematis viticella ‘Hanna’, sent us two batches of seed. The seedlings were planted last summer (2011), and many are enjoying their first bloom this year.

The first batch are seed from his viticella selection, ‘Hanna’ (named for his daughter). There are two of the 15 seedlings that are identical to C.v. ‘Hanna’, and the rest run the gamut of viticella group options, except nothing nearing red. Several are outlined, and some are short, but that may change in the coming two years of their trial. Pictured here are two of the more interesting of the “Hanna Seedlings”.

Sixten Widberg Clematis Seedling
Sixten Widberg Clematis Seedling

The second batch of seed was labelled “Sixten’s Special Mix”, so of course we had to quiz him about what to expect. Evidently Sixten mixed all kinds of Viorna Group pollen, and pollinated Clematis viorna, as the seed parent. Several of these seedlings (not all are in the ground yet), have bloomed with a distinct resemblance to Clematis ianthina, and are flowering at less than a meter tall (again, that may change once they get their legs under them). None of the seedlings bear any resemblance to their seed parent. But the pick of this litter, is this very purple Clematis integrifolia-looking baby. It is shown here in a picture taken on 8 August 2012, at the height of its first bloom. Prolific? Oh, my! The plant is about 2/3 of a meter tall, and in bloom from top to bottom. The leaves are sessile, and the plant is very bushy. It has been voted most likely to succeed, and of all of the Sixten seedlings, this is by far the one to watch.

Sixten Widberg Clematis Seedling

We thank Sixten for his continued generosity to FRCC. He has given the rights to all of these plants to FRCC, so we will be watching them for the next two years, and trying to keep the moles away from them!

‘Bee Happy’: follow-up

Posted by LindaB on Monday, November 2, 2009

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!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

No native bees have been seen engaging in this activity, and the hummingbirds (both Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds) continue to pollinate the flowers until the bees have cracked the sepals apart on a given flower. The hummingbirds move on to newly opened flowers, and cease pollinating the flowers disfigured by the bees. And unfortunately, once the bees mastered the skill of opening this shape of clematis blossom, they applied their lessons to ‘Fudo’ and other Viornae group hybrids. Yes, they’re quick learners, I’ll give ‘em that!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

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.

Birds do it, not bees!

Posted by LindaB on Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The American species in the clematis Viornae Group are pollinated by hummingbirds. These New World birds, with their long bills and tongues, have no trouble piercing the dense plug of pollen-bearing stamens (and pistols) that jam the opening of the urn-shaped blooms like those of the seedling pictured here. They easily reach the nectary chamber at the base of the filaments, and indeed, a pair of Anna’s Hummingbirds hang around the test plot, feeding on the Viornae seedlings we are evaluating. As they feed, their beaks and foreheads are liberally dusted with pollen. At Luscher Farm we are blessed with healthy populations of European honeybees, but they are completely flummoxed by this group of clematis.

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.

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