Virgin Bower (Clematis Virginiana) belongs to the buttercup family
Every August the road up to my house as well as the banks of Wayah Road, like most of the roadways of the area, is overtaken by a vine which drapes itself over blackberry bushes, small trees, and any other vertical greenery it can find.
The vine goes most commonly by the name Virgin Bower, but it has names such as “Old Man’s Beard”, “Devil’s Darning Needles” and others. Its scientific name is Clematis virginiana, Klematis being the Greek word for climbing plants named by Linnaeus (hence the L in the scientific name) probably in honor of the state of Virginia from where he most likely got his first Clematis virginiana plant sent to him by a plant enthusiast.
I was intrigued by the most common name of the plant and looked up the word “bower” in my Merriam Webster dictionary and found that the third meaning of the word is “a shelter (as in a garden) made with tree boughs or vines twined together: arbor” which certainly describes the plant well. The delicate, slightly sweet fragrant white flowers in profusion does remind one of a bride, so the name is very apt.
As for “Old Man’s Beard”, we would have to wait a couple of months for our “Aha moment”. By mid to late October the delicate white flowers will be transformed into seeds – achemes with tuffs of what looks like an old man’s hairy beard.
I had totally overlooked Virgin Bower, probably thinking it was late-blooming blackberry plants, until a couple of years ago in the fall during a walk I became intrigued with its tuffs of seed which had begun flying.
I had no idea what the plant was, but photographed it and identified it by its leaves which are opposite with 3 ovate toothed leaflets. Very excited to have a clematis on the property, I gathered seeds, cleaned them and found an appropriate place in the garden to plant it. The vine did not come up the next year, but did the following one.
When the plant emerged it immediately attached itself to the first plant it sensed. I gently untangled the petiole and twined it around a trellis. The plant is small, tender, with small leaves about 1/2 the size of the leaves found on the roadside Virgin Bower plants which tells me that it takes the plant some time to mature and begin to flower.
I am always tempted to put a disclaimer in every blog because my interest in plants is most certainly not scientific. I see them as something very unique to our area full of history and value and want to do what I can to identify them correctly, protect them if need be, and propagate them.