Smoke On A Rope: Wildflower Wednesday

– Posted in: Native/Invasive

Driving down country roads on the way to town, I noticed what looked like brown fur in many of the shrubs along the road. I finally realized that the “fur” was actually the seedheads of Virgin’s bower, Clematis virginiana, which Prairie Moon Nursery fittingly calls “prairie smoke on a rope.”

clematis seedheads October

These seedheads look like brown fur or smoke from the window of a speeding car.

Virgin’s bower is a native vine related to prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) and sharing the same “smoky” seedheads. It likes moist places–of which there are many on our land–and it was already growing smack-dab in the middle of the Slope Garden when we moved in, almost certainly self-sown and not deliberately planted by the former owners. I quickly learned that Virgin’s bower can grow lustily, overwhelming the kind of trellises sold in big box stores and spreading its tentacles in every direction.

native clematis overwhelming trellis

If you look carefully, you can see the green metal trellis I naively provided to support this vigorous grower. (Click on photo to enlarge)

I really like the plentiful flowers that start blooming in late July and continue through most of August, so my next step was to buy a much bigger trellis.
native clematis flower closeup

White flowers by the thousands cover a mature vine in late summer.

If that doesn’t work, I might try to dig it up and plant it at the base of an arch. In addition to looking pretty, Virgin’s bower provides food for several kinds of insects and caterpillars and shelter for nesting birds. While taking pictures for this post, I noticed that some vines had a lot of “smoke” and other vines didn’t have any.
native clematis virginiana seedheads in August

Only pistillate (female) and perfect (both sex parts) flowers make the characteristic smoke.

According to the Illinois Wildflowers website, Virgin’s Bower vines can have pistillate (female) flowers, staminate (male) flowers, or perfect flowers (both sex parts). I learned something new today!

Virgin’s bower looks very similar to sweet autumn clematis, an Asian vine that is considered invasive in many states. They both share a lot of common names, so the best way to tell them apart is by their leaves.

clematis virginiana leaves

The native clematis leaves are notched.

The native clematis leaves are notched, and the Asian clematis leaves are rounded.

Virgin’s bower is meant for big design statements, draped over a fence or providing shelter for a secluded garden bench. If you can’t enjoy it in your own garden, look for its “smoke” in the hedgerows.

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere. “It doesn’t matter if we sometimes show the same plants. How they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. It’s always the fourth Wednesday of the month!”

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Donna@GardensEyeView October 30, 2014, 12:36 am

I have this amazing vine growing along my fence. It is hardy and very vigorous and just finally bloomed this year. Love the smoke on a rope!

Frank October 28, 2014, 6:36 pm

Thanks! I can finally tell the difference between the Asian version and the native one…. unfortunately I have the Asian one all over my yard. But I do see it in the hedgerows and it will be good to know what’s out there too, I hope it’s mostly the native.

Jordan Baker October 28, 2014, 11:00 am

Lovely photos and good posts full of information thanks

Rose October 27, 2014, 9:07 am

I’ve heard of this plant but didn’t know much about it. Thanks for showcasing it, Kathy! Such pretty blooms, and I love the smoke, but I can see you need just the right spot for this native or it might take over.

Corner Garden Sue October 24, 2014, 9:47 pm

That is a lovely plant! I hope your new trellis idea works.

Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern October 24, 2014, 9:07 am

LOVE! I have one of these – mailed ordered from Prairie Moon or Prairie Nursery or maybe even Brushwood. One the rabbits ate before it was able to grow. The other is now inhabiting nearly the entire North wall of my workshop/garage. I had a smaller trellis I built from twigs and then a much larger trellis I built from very large branches and saplings – it has overtaken them both but oh, what a site to behold in bloom this year! I have to see if it is smoking right now …

Betsy October 23, 2014, 4:56 pm

How pretty. Love the name! I will look for it next July, or the “smoke” later.