Clematis virginiana (Virgin's Bower)
|Also known as:||Devil's Darning Needles|
|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):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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:
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.
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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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Virgin's Bower plant
- Virgin's Bower plant
- Virgin's Bower habitat
- garden-grown Virgin's Bower, on a tomato cage
- shaggy Virgin's Bower in fall
- ripe fruit
- Virgin's Bower pollinators
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?