Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Virgin's Bower

Many of us are so familiar with cultivated plants that we take for granted that they were once wild and untamed.

We never stop and think that their wild cousins are right beneath our noses or climbing above our heads.

One of these plants is Virgin's Bower, or Clematis virginiana. It is indeed a Clematis, and a close inspection yields the similarities.

It is a denizen of moist forests in the eastern United States, its range extending north to Canada and south to Texas and Florida.

Virgin's Bower can be found draped over trees and shrubs along forest edges, stream banks and fence rows, using large plants as its trellis, although it isn't above trailing along the ground.

Its vine could be easily overlooked as we stroll through our eastern forests. Growing from 12-15 feet long, the angled stem is covered in long-stemmed 3-toothed, ovate leaflets.

The vine's new growth is relatively weak and thin, turning woody after about three years. It climbs not with tendrils, but by twisting its leaf stalks around its supports. The new leaf stalks rotate in a circle, completing a revolution every 5 or 6 hours, until they find an object to latch onto.

Although it can occasionally smother its living trellis, it is not parasitic, deriving no sustenance from its "host."

It is when they bloom that they are likely to capture your attention! In late summer the vines are covered in numerous showy, fragrant white flowers an inch across. One might even mistake this little Clematis for some type of exotic wild Jasmine.

The 4 petal-like sepals spread widely and are a shade of pale cream.

The genders of the flowers can get rather confusing.

Sometimes a vine is made up of all male or staminate flowers. Sometimes they are all pistillate, or female. Sometimes they have what are known as perfect flowers, made up of both genders.

Depending on this identity, the flowers will look different, under close observation.

Staminate flowers are the showiest, with their abundant long stamens with white filaments and pale yellow anthers.

Pistillate flowers have a cluster of green carpels in the center, and each carpel has a short, curled style. These are surrounded by a cluster of sterile "pseudo-stamens."

A pistillate flower
Perfect flowers have a cluster of green carpels surrounded by two rows of stamens.

And we thought human reproduction was complicated!

Like our domestic garden variety Clematis, the seeds are just as showy as the blossoms - composed of numerous achenes, each with a long, silky tail.

Minnesota Wildflowers
Clematis are in the buttercup family, or Ranunculaceae, which contains a staggering variety of plants.

The Clematis genus contains over 250 species, mainly restricted to temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. Most of our familiar cultivated varieties originated in China, having been developed in Japanese gardens before making their way to Europe in the 18th century.

There are many native Clematis species to be found in the United States, including several interesting varieties in the Southeast.

Leather Vasevine (C. viorna) is one of them, and can be found growing in wet woods in the mid-South.

Forestry Images
A similar Clematis, known as Leatherflower (C. pitcheri) is quite rare in my state (TN) but fairly common in the central US.

Wildflower Center
There is also a western equivalent to C. virginiana, and that is C. ligusticifolia; also known locally as Virgin's Bower, but more commonly as Pepper Vine.

The Watershed Nursery
The origin of the word Clematis is Greek, describing a vine with "long, thin branches."

Virgin's Bower has numerous common names, including Devil's Darning Needles, Devil's Hair and Old Man's Beard.

Like practically every member of the buttercup family, Clematis are toxic.

However, do you remember the Western Virgin's Bower, and how it was also called Pepper Vine? Its seeds were once used as a pepper substitute by early pioneers and Western explorers. The whole plant has an acrid, peppery taste, however it can cause internal bleeding in large amounts.

All clematis species contain an essential oil that is very irritating to the mucus membranes and can even cause skin irritation.

Despite its mild toxicity, it was valued for medicine by indigenous tribes.

The Cherokee would brew a root tea to aid the kidneys. They would brew a warm infusion with Milkweed to treat a backache. A root infusion was made to cure stomach troubles, and a tea was brewed to help calm the nerves.

Other Clematis species, both on our continent and others, have had some type of medicinal use.

Pepper Vine was used in the external  treatment of skin sores. A root decoction was used to treat colds and sore throats. A poultice of the foliage was used to treat chest pain and rheumatic joints. The stalks and stems were used as a female contraceptive. A poultice of the mashed, moistened seeds was used to treat severe burns.

Some Asian species have been used in the treatment of dysentery, neuralgia, leucorrhoea and a host of other ailments.

When it comes to wildlife, Virgin's Bower in bloom is an oasis of pollinator activity, attracting numerous species of bees, moths and butterflies, and even hummingbirds.

Butterflies swarming over plumes of Virgin's Bower high in the trees is such a serene and ethereal spectacle.

The rambling vines provide excellent cover for wildlife and nesting birds.

It makes a lovely addition to your landscaping, providing an attractive and fragrant showpiece on an arbor, fence row or trellis.

Like domestic Clematis, give it moist feet and sun on its blooms and it will stay happy.

The beauty and purity of Virgin's Bower rivals any expensive cultivar, and is always a welcomed discovery when we happen upon one during a Summer stroll.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Yellow Leafcup

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


USDA Forest Service

Plants for a Future

Wildflower Center

Illinois Wildflowers

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart

Wildflowers of Tennessee - Jack B. Carman

Cherokee Plants and Their Uses - a 400 Year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

When it rains............

It has been a rather interesting week, around here.

It always seems like the crazy people come out in droves all at the same time. Is it the heat? The phase of the moon? Dunno.

Last week my sister's Pyrenees got hit by a car out at my parents' farm. Some loser sped right through and didn't bother stopping after he undoubtedly knew he'd hit the dog and left him flailing and yelping in the road.

It dislocated poor Fen's hind foot and the bone poked through the skin leaving a nasty wound. Luckily, because of the veterinary hospital my sister works at in Atlanta, she was able to get a good discount on his veterinary care - which will be extensive. He'll have to have multiple surgeries to make sure his ankle heals up properly.

On Sunday, we made our weekly trip to the farm to spend time with the family. Mark was working a split shift and took several hours off for lunch before heading back to the park later that evening.

After lunch I happened to walk out to the edge of the property and look over at our new house, and noticed two strange vehicles parked in our driveway. My first thought was that somebody had broken into the house and were stealing power tools and copper wiring.

I ran over to the house and let Mark know, and we went over to investigate. My dad recognized one of the cars as the woman who lived on the property next to us. We hadn't met her yet, but we were always curious about her living situation, as she didn't have a house, but was simply camping out in a lean-to.

Either way, I was livid that she and her guest thought it was okay to park in our driveway, blocking the entrance.

Mark walked down to talk to her (I stayed behind because I was pretty pissed and didn't want anything to escalate). Mark was in uniform, so she looked pretty scared when he walked up.

She was nice enough, apparently, and commented that she was glad to have a "safe neighbor."

She apologized over and over, saying she didn't know anybody owned the place. Which I don't buy - considering all of the noise that's been going on and that the grass had just been mowed.

She and her friend moved their cars shortly thereafter, and hopefully she doesn't try it again.

Nosy people that we are, we looked her up online to learn more about her (Mark considered running their tags to check for warrants, but decided that may not be the best way to make friends). Among other things, we soon discovered she was an outspoken vegan. Oh boy.

I can't help but wonder how she will react when she discovers we raise rabbits and eat them. I just hope she's not one of these crazy activists that tries to "set them free" or reports us to Animal Control or something (although I know for a fact that our AC officers would laugh in her face).

I'll hope for the best, and that we can make friends with her. Having good neighbors is such a blessing, especially in our remote neck of the woods.

So, that encounter made the day interesting enough, but it had only just begun.........

Later that night I was home and had just put Ian to bed. Around 9:30 Mark called and told me to lock all the doors. I could tell from the tone in his voice that something serious was going on. He let me know he had just caught somebody robbing the Park Office (about a 1/4 mile from our house) and chased after him into the woods heading in the direction of our house.

I was immediately scared for him, because I knew he was the only one on the park at the time.

Luckily, he called the other rangers for back up, as well as the Chief Ranger, the County, the Corps and TWRA. It made me feel better that he would have so much help.

He made the choice not to chase after the guy in the dark, since he didn't have a flashlight. The guy was wearing flip flops (LOL), so he wasn't going too far too fast.

I turned on all the outside lights (which are very bright) and listened for the dogs barking.

It took all of them (and the tracking canine) several hours to locate him, but in the end he just gave up.

It was easy to see why by looking at him - his feet were black with dried blood, and there was a huge gash on the top of his foot.

He lost his sandals pretty early in the chase, and ran several miles through the steep, dark woods (full of brambles, barbed wire and rocks) and along the road barefoot. He also collided full force into one of the guard rails, evidently catching his foot on an iron bolt or something.

Luckily, other than initially bolting from Mark when he tried to arrest him at the office, he was non-aggressive and cooperative with the officers; otherwise so many things could have gone wrong.

Mark later learned that there was a hidden crowbar easily within the man's reach when he surprised him going through the safe.

The guy's girlfriend was also arrested, as she was hanging around waiting to pick him up. Luckily Mark had confiscated the guy's cell phone before he took off, otherwise he would have been long gone.

After the search, the arrest, the trip to the hospital and booking him into jail, Mark finally got home at 5:00 AM and went straight to bed. So I spent several hours in suspense waiting to hear the story that morning.

Things turned out as best as they possibly could, and nobody got hurt.

Well, except for the perp, that is.

I found these on the road the next day
Mark asked him if running had been worth it. The guy hung his head and said, "No."

We also learned that he had narrowly missed stepping on a huge copperhead crossing the road.

I'm very proud of Mark for the way he handled his first two arrests at the park (even after 13 years of service).

We weren't the only ones who had a close brush with criminals that night.

I found out the next morning that somebody had broken into my brother's car and stolen work tools and his laptop (too far away for it to be related).


I hope things have been calmer for you, wherever you are. Never a dull moment, that's for sure!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Yes, I Still Have Rabbits....(and a life outside of wildflowers)

.... in case you were wondering.

We are just at that point in Summer where my main objective is to simply keep them cool and hydrated - alive, basically.

Luckily, despite temperatures soaring in the high 90's and humidity averaging in the 70's, I have yet to lose anybody. A high-powered fan blowing on them during the hottest times seems to be enough to stave off heat stress.

So here's where we are (and I apologize for the horrific quality of these photos - I was in a hurry to finish up before Ian took off across the yard again):

Big Boy (real name pending - still trying to decide on a good Japanese name after his sire) is continuing to grow out nicely, although I have no idea what he weighs at this point (scale still dead).

This is Sumac, who will be replacing her mother, Acer.

And this is the one remaining (surviving) Creme doe from Babette's litter, Latte. The rest of the does all had snotty noses and were culled. I'm still afraid that she will start snotting when she kindles her first litter, later this fall, but I'm hoping for the best.

Cardamom's last litter looks fantastic, and I have my eye on at least three different doelings as replacements for her.

I actually meant for her to go in the crockpot much sooner, but time constraints have prevented any rabbit processing.

Really, all I've had time to do for my poor rabbits is check on them twice a day for feeding and watering. I've barely touched them, otherwise.

Mark has been averaging 15 hours of overtime every week, and spending his "off" days working on the new house.

Last week we wrapped up our park's VERY FIRST Junior Ranger Camp!

It went incredibly well, and I (and the new manager) were very impressed with how well Mark organized and executed it.

We are really looking forward to next year!

It's hard to believe August is right around the corner, and fall not to far behind that.

As far as the new house is concerned, we aren't exactly where we hoped we would be at this point.

Not surprisingly, unforeseen issues have come up, and even though we finished readying the studs and cleaning up to prepare for drywall installation, there are still a few more things that need to go in before he can get started.

Namely the French doors (which Mark picked up today) and the new tubs/showers.

It just seems like we will never see the end of this, or actually get to live there, but I know it'll happen, Just maybe not in the time frame we were hoping for.

So that's a brief update of the goings-on at the ole' homestead.

Stay cool, my friends!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Yellow Leafcup

The aster family is an enormous one, with members that range from showy and familiar to rare and understated.

Today's wildflower, Yellow Leafcup, is often overlooked as one of the many sunflower species growing wild along the roadsides in the eastern US, but take a closer look and you will see that it is quite unique.

In our neck of the woods, it is one of the first in a long procession of large, sunny,  ray flowers to bloom in the fields, roadsides and forest edges during the summer.

Yellow Leafcup can stand from 3 to 10 feet tall, forming thick stands in the woods and meadows where it calls home.

The showy, bright yellow flowers measure an inch across, and can number from 8-15 on a single plant.

If you look closely at the bloom, you will discover that the true flowers are inconspicuous, and the large, yellow rays are meant only to direct pollinators towards them.

Its most unique feature however, are its leaves. They are opposite, and can grow 4-12 inches long with large, palmate lobes.

You can easily see how it got its other common name, Bear's Foot.

Leafcup's Latin name is Smallanthus uvedalius. Smallanthus means quite literally, "small flower," which seems strange since the flowers aren't all that small. Perhaps they appear small in relation to the overall size of the plant?

The specific epithet, uvedalius, was given in honor of the Enlgish teacher and botanist Robert Uvedale, who was the first to discover this plant growing in his garden in the 18th century.

Yellow Leafcup used to go by the Latin name Polymnia uvedalia. Polymnia is Greek for "many songs," and references the Greek goddess of the same name

While it is common throughout much of its range, it is considered an endangered plant in New York, New Jersey and Michigan, and even has legal protection in those states.

There are two other varieties of Leafcup that can be found in my state of Tennessee. One of them is White-Flowered Leafcup, or Polymnia canadensis.

Its foliage is very similar, but the leaves are pinnately lobed, rather than a triangular shape.

It also doesn't grow as tall, and has flowers that are far less showy; often lacking ray flowers completely.

However, complete blooms are rather lovely upon close inspection.

White-Flowered Leafcup can be found across much of the same range as the Yellow Variety, although it tends to stick more to the woods.

I have also noted that, at least in our area, these are the very first leaves of any kind to emerge in Spring; sometimes pushing their way out of the soil as early as January, in the milder years.

The other variety of Polymnia, P. laevigata, or Tennessee Leafcup, is far less common.

It's range is restricted primarily to calcareous soils on the the Appalachian Plateau, Interior Highlands and the Coastal Plain in a few Southeastern states.

Wildflower Center
It's very similar to White-Flowered Leafcup, except that it has smooth stems, rather than hairy ones.

Yellow Leafcup hasn't ever been recorded as a food source for humans, but it has had many medicinal uses throughout history.

The Cherokee used its roots as an anti-inflammatory. Bruised roots were used to treat burns, or made into a salve to soothe cuts, scrapes and other skin irritations. Roots were also useful in treating rheumatism. A strong decoction was used to help expel afterbirth.

Other tribes used Leafcup's roots as a stimulant and laxative.

In Western medicine it was used by Dr. J. W. Pruitt in the late 1800's to treat glandular tumors and abscesses.

The roots were also thought to benefit the liver, lungs, stomach and spleen, and were used to treat indigestion and liver ailments.

One of its more notable uses was as a hair loss remedy. It was made into a variety of lotions and tonics that were applied to the scalp to help stimulate hair growth.

When it comes to wildlife, Leafcups are a valuable source of food.

The blooms attract a wide variety of pollinators. Bees, flies and butterflies eagerly seek them for their nectar.

Its seeds are enjoyed by wild birds, especially Goldfinches and Indigo Buntings.

Large stands of Leafcup also provide valuable cover for other wildlife species, especially newborn Whitetail fawns.

Yellow Leafcup is a truly unique and beautiful wildflower, encompassing the warmth and cheer of the Summer season.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Turk's Cap Lily

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


Plants for a Future

Henriette's Herbal Webpage

US Wildflowers

Cherokee Plants and Their Uses - a 400 Year History - Paul B. Hamel & Mary U. Chiltoskey

Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart