Clematis virginiana (Virgin's Bower)

Plant Info
Also known as: Devil's Darning Needles
Family:Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist woods, fencerows, along shores
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:6 to 20 foot vine
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
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 Cluster type: panicle

[photo of male flowers] Branching flattish to somewhat pyramidal clusters of up to 30 stalked flowers arising from leaf axils. Flowers are about 1 inch across with 4 elliptic, white, petal-like sepals that are slightly hairy on the upper surface and more densely so on the lower. There are separate male and female flowers, on separate plants. In the center of male flowers are numerous spreading stamens, white with creamy tips. Female flowers have numerous greenish pistils in the center, each with a curled style, and may be surrounded by a few sterile stamens.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are compound in groups of 3. Leaflets are up to 4 inches long and 3 inches wide, often cleft or shallowly lobed in 2 or 3 parts, with coarsely toothed edges, sharply pointed tips, a rounded to heart-shaped base and short, finely hairy stalk. The upper surface is hairless or nearly so, the lower variously hairy, especially along major veins. Stems are round to squarish, hairy, often purplish, the lower stem becoming woody. Stems lack tendrils, the leaf stalks twine around surrounding vegetation and structures for support.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of developing fruit] The female flowers become a head 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.


While Clematis species are very popular in the nursery trade, this one is conspicuously absent, much due to its incredible vigor and small flower size. It should not be so easily overlooked. Most people think of trellises as a 2'x6" meshed frame purchased at Menards or other garden center. I have strung wires from the base of older trees and strung them to the lower branches and let the vine go where it will. The effect can be stunning—a large vertical column of foliage and effervescent white blooms with very interesting seedheads into winter. This provides untypical vertical structure and a excellent habitat for insects and birds in your garden. Also unlike many non-native Clematis species this is widely adaptable to most garden soils and suffers few nutrient issues as is common in the hybrids. Virgin's Bower is a much more robust vine than its cousin, Purple Clematis (Clematis occidentalis), which has somewhat smaller leaflets that are often unlobed, and flowers that are single, not clustered, with large, violet sepals.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Anoka, Chisago and Ramsey counties. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County and in private gardens in Anoka and Ramsey counties..


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

Posted by: Pat - Meeker co
on: 2011-01-28 00:43:18

This plant is very common in open woods, etc. Can be a giant nuisance!

Posted by: Maryanne - Hungry Jack Road off the Gunflint Trail, Cook County
on: 2011-07-13 11:58:20

We found this growing on a balsam near our cabin in May. But flowers were pinkish purple, not white. We checked it again on July 10 and found the feathery fruit. Friends who have a cabin on East Lake, near Big Fork also have the purple virgin's bower. Wild Flowers, by Homer House, published 1934 and 1961, calls it "one of our rarest wild flowers". I can send an image of the flowers if you like. Thanks for what you are doing.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2011-07-13 12:29:52

Maryanne, I believe what you found was the other native Clematis, C. occidentalis - purple clematis. It is only found in the Arrowhead and the few counties in the extreme SE corner of the state. We haven't managed to catch it in bloom ourselves, yet.

Posted by: grik - St. Paul
on: 2011-08-02 22:35:50

This plant makes up for its small flower size with its prolific bloom and vigor. However if you plant it will propagate itself. I planted this on a hillside I did not want to mow any longer and it has been a very good plant there. It has many beautiful little flies that frequent the flowers. It has very nice seed heads as well. Unfortunately no smell to the flowers I can make out.

Posted by: Victoria - Shakopee, Minnesota - Dean's Lake
on: 2011-10-30 14:53:51

Just scored some Virgin's bower seed from three plants on the north side of Dean's Lake in Shakopee. Sowed it on the south side of the lake, can't wait for the wonderful flowers!!!

Posted by: Jay - Crosby Farm Regional Park, St, Paul, MN
on: 2012-09-23 14:33:32

While not abundant, Virgin's bower occurs in a fair number of spots along the trails of the park, and its fruits make it especially noticeable at this time of year (late September).

Posted by: Janelle - Glendalough State Park, Battle Lake
on: 2014-02-18 09:15:59

Found in abundance growing wild throughout the park alongside trails, near woodlands, profues blooms in mid to late August

Posted by: R. Johnson - Milaca, Mille Lacs County
on: 2014-09-25 09:54:44

Found along the shoreline of the Rum River in downtown Milaca. Working on plant identification and plant adaptations for biology project. Had not seen this plant in this location before.

Posted by: Sue - Rochester
on: 2015-07-25 13:04:45

I have this growing to cover the neighbor's 75' long chain link fence. Don't remember if I purchased it or it came up on it's own. Our property borders a 40 acre undeveloped track of land that used to be a pasture.

Posted by: Marty - Stillwater
on: 2015-10-21 17:33:07

Found this at Interstate State Park, near the Dalles Peking area.

Posted by: m.s - Oxbow Park, Byron, MN
on: 2015-11-03 10:28:10

Found this in the fall hiking the North Meadow Trail. The seed pods really caught my eye. Beautiful.

Posted by: David F - Near Lake Pepin and Frontenac St Pk
on: 2016-09-29 13:22:59

Found the vine and its stringy flowers one a restored prairie in bright sunlight. Could it be something else?

Posted by: Doc G - Saint Paul
on: 2017-06-30 18:22:10

I have it growing on the side of my garage, but I don't remember planting it (though I may have lost track). Does it reseed easily and do I need to worry about this?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-06-30 18:28:09

Doc, there are separate male and female plants and both are required for a female to produce seed (males don't produce seed). However, both spread rhizomatously (via underground stems) so that is something to watch for. If they're happy in their environment, they can be a little aggressive but usually manageable.

Posted by: Elaine S
on: 2017-08-03 09:19:02

Please check that it is not the invasive look-alike. If it has toothed leaves it is the native. It it has smooth leaves take it out! It is highly invasive sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora). The flowers and seedpods look alike. See

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-08-04 18:08:06

Elaine, C. terniflora is not known to be naturalized in MN—possibly a hardiness issue. There has only been one report of it in the whole state, 20 years ago in the Duluth area, in the waste pile of an old commercial greenhouse. That's not to say that it won't start escaping cultivation here like it has in some more southern and eastern states.

Posted by: Beth P - Minneapolis
on: 2017-08-23 15:29:48

I've got it growing in my yard where it likely started between garages. I have read that it is very poisonous to animals and it is growing onto the hen's house and beginning to cover the fencing for the run. I'd love to leave it if I can because it is quite lovely, but if it will harm the chickens, or dogs how do I remove it?

Posted by: Sam P - Duluth, St. Louis County
on: 2017-08-28 20:54:10

I saw some hiking the Snively Trail on Hawk Ridge in Duluth just last week. I have photos :)

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