Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Old Man's Beard"

Canon XTi with EF 100mm macro lens + macro-twin-flash;
exp. 1/125 sec., f/16, at ISO 100

Virgin's Bower
© Dave Spier

In the world of plants, there's a vine commonly known as "Old Man's Beard." (Well, that would apply to me, too, but I'm otherwise not green.) It's also called Virgin's Bower and botanists know it as Clematis virginiana, a member of the Anemoneae tribe in the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae). The descriptive name refers to the fruit clusters that have seeds ending in long filaments. Other folk names include Devil's Darning Needles and Devil's Hair. The genus name, Clematis, is Ancient Greek for "climbing plant."

The vine is somewhat herbaceous (at least in the north), meaning it dies back to the ground in late fall. It's opposite leaves have three leaflets reminiscent of Poison Ivy, but that is a woody vine. In the spring, Virgin's Bower has to start from scratch. In summer it puts out numerous clusters of small, fragrant flowers, each with four white "petals" (actually sepals). Compared to their colorful and showy garden relatives, they're more inconspicuous.

Virgin's Bower is native to eastern North America. Ours grow in a young woods that's mostly shaded. There they blend in with the other plants. Perhaps in full sun, the vines and flowers would be more noticeable. The vine is capable of climbing trees to a height of 20 feet, but ours just sprawl in a tangled mess across the top of the ground cover and low shrubs. Clematis virginiana tolerates Black Walnuts, which produce chemicals that interfere with some plant's growth. That's a good thing because the squirrels are advancing the walnut forest in that direction.

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