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.”
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.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. 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. 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.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!”