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Plants of the Western Slope Ocvt. 18, 2017

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Photo by Al Schnieder Virgin's Bower in autumn dress.

Virgin's Bower

Another gray day. It does seem like they are becoming common! I wish that the sun would shine! As we come down Cory Grade, just north of the Gunnison River, I'm watching for Virgin's Bower. Long ago, there was a small tree (never figured out the specie) and in winter it would be covered with this vine's fuzzy seed heads. The tree was lost to high water a few years ago, and I've been aware of the possibility since -- maybe some of the seeds took root. Things, plant wise, seem to be improving, so I'm especially observant today. And there it is!

The growth extends south to north, for at least 20 feet. And there's another interesting bit ... a small tree right by the water's edge is covered with the lovely white seed-heads.

I always revel in this phase of Virgin's Bower also known as white clematis and old man's beard. Because the vines are usually above eye-level, few folks notice the summer's white blossoms that occur in clusters at the axil of leaf and stem. The male and female flowers are on different plants. The attractive male flower has four half-inch white petal-like segments that support 20 to 50 feathery stamens. And the female flower, with similar white segments, has 20 to 60 pistils that develop into the spectacular seed-heads.

Each individual seed sports a 2-to-3-inch-long, beautiful silken plume. The leaves are compound (made up of several sections) but the 1-to-3-inch-long sections are so far apart that they appear to be singular.

In the Flora of North America, the range map includes the southern reaches of western Canada and all of the western United States. Such a wide distribution usually results in many uses and so it was to the indigenous people: a wash for skin problems, a lotion for backaches or swelling and a protection against witches. A concoction was prepared for cramps and stomach aches and the leaves were chewed to treat colds and sore throats. The Clematis is an important ornamental plant with over 2000 cultivars.

Virgin's Bower is properly labeled as Clematis lingusticifolia (Greek klema=vine and lingusticifolia means narrow leaf). It's a member of the Buttercup Family with over 2,000 species in the world's temperate regions.

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Evelyn Horn, Plants of the Western Slope
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