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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
A similar Clematis, known as Leatherflower (C. pitcheri) is quite rare in my state (TN) but fairly common in the central US.
|The Watershed Nursery|
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.
All clematis species contain an essential oil that is very irritating to the mucus membranes and can even cause skin irritation.
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.
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.
It makes a lovely addition to your landscaping, providing an attractive and fragrant showpiece on an arbor, fence row or trellis.
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.
USDA Forest Service
Plants for a Future
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