VIRGIN'S BOWER VIRGINIA CLEMATIS TRAVELLER'S JOY OLD MAN'S
(Clematis Virginiana) Crowfoot family
Flowers - White and greenish, about 1 in. across or less, in
loose clusters from the axils. Calyx of 4 or 5 petal-like sepals;
no petals; stamens and pistils numerous, of indefinite number;
the staminate and pistillate
flowers on separate plants; the
styles feathery, and over 1 in. long in fruit. Stem: Climbing,
slightly woody. Leaves: Opposite, slender petioled, divided into
3 pointed and widely toothed or lobed leaflets.
Preferred Habitat - Climbing over woodland borders, thickets,
roadside shrubbery, fences, and walls; rich, moist soil.
Flowering Season - July-September.
Distribution - Georgia and Kansas northward less common beyond
the Canadian border.
Fleecy white clusters of wild clematis, festooning woodland and
roadside thickets, vary so much in size and attractiveness that
one cannot but investigate the reason. Examination shows that
comparatively few of the flowers are perfect, that is, few
contain both stamens and pistils; the great majority are either
male - the more showy ones - or female - the ones so conspicuous
in fruit - and, like Quakers in meeting, the sexes are divided.
The plant that bears staminate blossoms produces none that are
pistillate, and vice versa - another marvelous protection against
that horror of the floral race, self-fertilization, and a case of
absolute dependence on insect help to perpetuate the race. Since
the clematis blooms while insect life is at its height, and after
most, if not all, of the Ranunculaceae have withdrawn from the
competition for trade; moreover, since its white color, so
conspicuous in shady retreats, and its accessible nectar attract
hosts of flies and the small, short-tongued bees chiefly, that
are compelled to work for it by transferring pollen while they
feed, it goes without saying that the vine is a winner in life's
Charles Darwin, who made so many interesting studies of the power
of movement in various plants, devoted special attention to the
clematis clan, of which about one hundred species exist but,
alas! none to our traveller's joy, that flings out the right hand
of good fellowship to every twig within reach, winds about the
sapling in brotherly embrace, drapes a festoon of flowers from
shrub to shrub, hooks even its sensitive leafstalks over any
available support as it clambers and riots on its lovely way. By
rubbing the footstalk of a young leaf with a twig a few times on
any side, Darwin found a clematis leaf would bend to that side in
the course of a few hours, but return to the straight again if
nothing remained on which to hook itself. "To show how sensitive
the young petioles are," he wrote, "I may mention that I just
touched the undersides of two with a little watercolor which,
when dry, formed an excessively thin and minute crust but this
sufficed in twenty-four hours to cause both to bend downwards."
In early autumn, when the long, silvery, decorative plumes
attached to a ball of seeds form feathery, hoary masses even more
fascinating than the flower clusters, the name of old man's beard
is most suggestive. These seeds never open, but, when ripe, each
is borne on the autumn gales, to sink into the first moist,
springy resting place.
The English counterpart of our virgin's bower is fragrant.
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