Clematis occidentalis (Purple Clematis)

Plant Info
Also known as: Purple Virgin's Bower
Family:Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry to average moisture; rocky woods, woodland edges, thickets
Bloom season:May - June
Plant height:3 to 12 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals

[photo of flower] Flowers are single in leaf axils, 1½ to 2½ inches long with 4 petal-like sepals that are blue-violet to pinkish-purple, oblong-elliptic, hairy, and drooping to somewhat spreading. Flower stalks are 2 to 4 inches long and sparsely hairy.

[photo of inner flower column] In the center is a column of numerous stamens surrounding a bundle of styles. Around the outside of the column are usually sterile stamens (staminodia) that are flat and rather spatula-shaped, white with prominent veins that are often tinged pink.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: compound

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound with 3 leaflets. Leaflets are 1½ to 3½ inches long and up to 2 inches wide, toothless or with a few shallow teeth, sharply pointed tips, and hairy stalk. Leaflets are egg or teardrop to heart-shaped but sometimes irregularly lobed in 2 or 3 parts. Both leaf surfaces are hairless, or sparsely hairy and may become hairless.

[leaf stalk acts like a tendril] Stems lack tendrils; the leaf stalks twine around surrounding vegetation and structures for support. Stems are round to squarish, mostly hairless, often purplish, the lower stem becoming woody.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of developing fruit] The flowers become heads of finely hairy seed, the remains of the style persisting and elongating, becoming a “tail” about 2 inches long. The seeds ripen from green to rusty brown and the tails become gray and very feathery (see also more photos below), the wind eventually carrying the seed away.


Purple Clematis is easily identified by its large, purplish flowers with 4 droopy petal-like sepals. Finding it is not so simple, however. It tends to be a shy, wispy thing and is never found in large numbers, as if it didn't want to be noticed. The flower color tends to blend into the green of surrounding leaves and you may not even see it unless you walk into it. It is not as robust or prolific as its cousin Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana), which has coarsely toothed, 3-lobed leaves and clusters of white flowers. There are 3 recognized varieties of Clematis occidentalis, vars. dissecta and grossesserata are more western, var. occidentalis more eastern with Minnesota on the western edge of its range.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Aitkin and Itasca counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Atikin, Cass and Itasca counties. Photos courtesy Bill Steele taken in Aiktin County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Lisa - Side Lake
on: 2015-06-05 21:30:30

My niece and I were hiking some trails and found this one growing in one small area. The vine was in bloom and was very pretty climbing along the trees and hill. We only found it one spot and after several miles never saw it again.

Posted by: Roberta - Carlton County
on: 2016-05-27 15:49:46

My sister, Janet and I were walking in the woods in Northern Carlton County looking for wild flowers. We came upon this vine with beautiful purple blossoms. Neither of us had ever seen this flower before. It was the find of the day!

Posted by: Kim - St. Louis County - Gooseberry Falls State Park
on: 2016-05-30 23:31:05

Found this on the south side of Gooseberry River near a trail that runs from the falls to Lake Superior. It was closer to the lake than the falls - but before Agate beach. Showed a picture of it to a ranger - who had no idea what it was. Quite happy to have someone direct me to your website!

Posted by: Helen - Chippewa National Forest
on: 2016-06-09 11:40:09

Saw this flower on a trail in the Chippewa National Forest, near Inger. Never saw it before and had to find out what it was and I found this site. It's so informative and the pics are really beautiful.

Posted by: Gary - Trout Lake in Cook County
on: 2016-06-11 11:59:01

A single plant with flowers growing from from a bouldery bank on June 2, 2016. Partial shade. Moist but drained soil. Trees nearby are balsam fir, mountain maple, birch, aspen, and spruce. I photographed the flowers and leaves but did not collect a voucher specimen as the population was too small.

Posted by: Cathy R - Canosia Township (Pike Lake area) in St. Louis County
on: 2016-12-21 23:03:17

I have noticed this plant/flower the last two summers on the side of the road where I live. I never knew what it was until I recently saw it on a greeting card with the name of the flower, so I checked my wildflowers guide for verification. It is not easily seen, but is a beautiful vine flower! I found it on both sides of the road in rather close proximity to one another on sites where hardwood trees grow.

Posted by: Cathy R - Canosia Township (near Pike Lake), St. Louis County
on: 2016-12-21 23:06:48

Correction: I could not find the flower in my reference book, but looked it up on this site and confirmed it was a Purple Clematis.

Posted by: Diane - Itasca cut.
on: 2017-05-22 12:48:34

On my backyard.

Posted by: Steve - Bowstring Township, Itasca County
on: 2017-05-23 10:38:52

Found in 10 locations along a 75 yd. stretch of power line right-of-way.

Posted by: Chris H - Devil Track Wildflower Sanctuary outside Grand Marais
on: 2017-05-29 13:58:59

One of a couple of well developed vines just starting to bloom

Posted by: Sue k - North central Lake County
on: 2017-05-31 15:22:50

Found a 3 foot vine with one purple blossom on a rocky hill.

Posted by: Bruce P - Cascade trail, Tettegouche SP
on: 2017-06-17 16:27:20

Appeared to be a single vine, maybe 4-5 ft, with a dozen or more blooms, against an old birch trunk -- found 12 June 2017

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