Bud, Bloom, and Banquet

Purple leatherflower bud ~ Dudney Nature Center, League City

One of my favorite native vines, the Purple Leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri), typically climbs over and around woodland margins, road cuts, fence rows, and disturbed ground such as construction sites. While its stems can grow to a length of ten feet or more, its flowers usually are less than an inch long. Solitary and simply shaped, the sepals of the blue-to-purple flowers have recurved, slightly ruffled margins; the plant blooms from late spring through summer.

The genus name is derived from the Greek klematis: a word which designates climbing plants. The specific epithet pitcheri honors Dr. Zina Pitcher (1797-1872), a surgeon with the United States Army, Regent of the University of Michigan, and botanist in the Great Lakes region.

Purple leather flower in bloom ~ Brazoria Wildlife Refuge

Seeds begin to form even while the plant still is blooming. Held in clusters, they mature from light green to dark red or brown, with slightly hairy tails that some describe as spider-like.

The flowers are pollinated primarily by bumblebees, although other insects such as flower-feeding thrips and caterpillars of various Thyris moth species feed on the foliage. The vine is used as cover and nesting habitat by songbirds, and although no specific butterflies are associated with the plant, this Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) seems to have found it a congenial resting place. Whether it was sipping a bit of leftover nectar or pondering its next stop on the vine, I can’t say.

Painted Lady on developing C. pitcheri seed head ~ Brazos River bank, East Columbia


Comments always are welcome.

56 thoughts on “Bud, Bloom, and Banquet

  1. I see lots of these, especially around the milkweed, and photographed one resting on the rotted portion of our neighbor’s fence. These beauties seem to love our backyard. Yours is the first I have seen close up. Perhaps I should swap my macro for a zoom?

    1. Actually, I used my macro lens for each of these photos. It’s a more flexible lens than I realized, and doesn’t always require being right of top of the subject. Of course, as a terrific professional photographer once advised me, “If you’re too far away for your zoom lens, use your backup zoom — your feet.” I’ve never forgotten that, although I did buy a good pair of boots to help me ‘zoom in’ a little closer now and then.

  2. If I’ve caught it right, in east Texas you’re a photographic pitcher of pitcher plants and Pitcher’s clematis. The purple and scarlet leatherflowers have flowers that look so similar to each other, and so different from those of other Clematis species.

    1. Despite my fondness for Old Man’s Beard in full fuzziness, this clematis (and scarlet leatherflower) are just as pleasing to my eye. I love the shape, although I’m still trying for a really good photo of the hidden-from-the-eye interior. There might have been some opportunities at Bell’s Landing, where I took the last photo, but the dense vines and multiple flowers came with a riverbank collapsing into the Brazos, so I demurred, and settled for the butterfly.

    1. I like everything about them: their color, the shape, their long bloom time. Even the seedheads are cool; I enjoy finding them when they’re fully dried and undamaged.

    1. I’ve seen the dried seedheads used in arrangements; they’re quite interesting, although not as pretty as the colorful flowers. It took some patience to get the photo of the butterfly. It was midday, and I first spotted it sheltering in the shade of some leaves. Clearly, we’re not the only creatures who look for a little relief from the heat!

  3. The flower looks rather like an octopus with a big head and weensy tentacles. Nice shade of purple, though. I could see somebody like Beatrix Potter or Cecily Mary Barker making a fairy hat out of the blossoms.

    1. Unfortunately, not. Here’s the distribution map. Even if it crept a bit farther north than the map shows, it wouldn’t make it to your area. There’s a wonderful scarlet leatherflower, C. texensis, that’s endemic to the Edwards Plateau in our state. I thought I had a photo of it, but I can’t find it, so this one will do. I was astonished to see on Chris’s blog this morning what the geneticists have done to the flower. To my eye, the native outshines the hybrids.

      1. I just looked it up on MBG’s Plant Finder and it lists it as hardy to zone 5, so I could grow it, yay! It is a beauty and while the hybrids are pretty, I like the less flashy natives.

    1. The distribution map makes clear the division between this species and yours. I’ve read that some plants develop fuzziness or hairyness as a way of dealing with more arid conditions, and that could explain why the two species are ‘the same, but different.’ All of its stages are delightful; I hope this fall I can find some attractive seedheads to photograph.

    1. Isn’t that butterfly something? Best of all, now I know the difference between the Painted Lady and the American Lady; it’s all about the number and arrangement of the spots. The interior of this flower is an amazement. Now I have getting a decent photo of the inside on my to-do list — I need to find a flower that’s more than a few inches above the ground to do it.

    1. And you’re made a wonderfully alliterative appearance here today! I’m glad you enjoyed this favorite of mine; it’s often missed because of its small size, but the color certainly shines in the midst of the greens surrounding it.

  4. Nice collection of the many stages of the Purple Leatherflower, a Clematis shape I have not seen. Yes, you did capture a high key which is lovely. And that last with the Painted Lady is gorgeous for a spent bloom. The proboscis certainly looks like it was tending to some business , maybe just searching for the leftover tidbits as you mentioned.

    1. There’s a companion species called the Scarlet Leatherflower that you probably have seen on Steve’s blog. It doesn’t grow in my area, but the shape and general characteristics are the same. As the name suggests, it’s a beautiful red, and I’d love to find one this year — a trip to the hill country would be required, though. I got quite a kick out of that proboscis. I didn’t realize I’d captured it until I looked at the image on the computer.

    1. I’ve always thought that the only fully intact butterflies are the ones who are less than a minute from the cocoon. I can’t remember a single of my butterfly photos that doesn’t show a bit of damage: a nibble here, a torn wing there. It’s a hard life in the flower fields!

    1. Even though the shape of the flower is unlike that of other clematis flowers, the family resemblance shows in the seedheads. The butterfly made me smile. She was sheltering from the midday heat beneath a leaf. I didn’t have the heart to shoo her out, but eventually she decided to move on, and I had my chance.

    1. The flower does resemble a lantern, doesn’t it? I wondered if someone had used this flower as a model for an actual lantern. Whatever the answer, all it took was a quick search for ‘art deco hanging lantern’ to turn up this. It lacks the curled up edges, but it’s close enough.

  5. The way the sepals curl makes me think of fancy hat at Ascot or like location where the hats have become part of the event. A beautiful flower in any event and if it is willing to welcome pollinators a winner in my book!

    1. There’s a lot to reward a pollinator here. I still don’t have a decent photo of what the inside looks like, but it’s packed with pollen. Here’s a web photo that shows that inside structure. For a bee, the plant is wide open.

  6. What a pretty, Lapis-colored bloom! You find the most interesting things on your jaunts across Texas, Linda, and I’m so happy you’re sharing them here. That way, I get to learn, too!

    1. Believe it or not, this one is widespread across Illinois. If you enlarge this distribution map, you can see the counties where it’s been documented. It may be even more widespread, since the map depends on reports of the flower, and flowers don’t care about any map!
      I’ve found it even in our suburbs, especially along fencelines and such, so there’s a chance you could see it when you’re walking the dog — depending on how tightly trimmed your neighborhood is.

  7. I found one of these growing and blooming along the side of one of the road my street ends into, just that once, just that one year. I still look when I walk the dog that way.

    1. They seem to be unpredictable in their comings and goings. They were thick along a road at the Galveston/Brazoria county line, and then they weren’t. As far as I could tell, there hadn’t been any mowing or herbicide spraying. Maybe something just ate them up. The Brazoria refuge does have them growing on a treliis in their butterfly garden, and they’ve been there for several years.

    1. That’s a pretty one. The separations among the sepals is different, but there’s no mistaking the seedhead. In the process of looking it up, I learned that there’s an international clematis society: of course there is. It was interesting to see how many cultivars there are. Most of them appear a little more delicate than our natives, but that may be a result of their different structures.

  8. Gorgeous photos, Linda. I SO want one (or more) of this vine in my garden. LBJWC had them for sale early in the season, but required reservations for the sale. By the time my turn came, not a leatherleaf to be found. One of our good local nurseries sometimes have them, I’ll keep a look out next fall. Thanks for the post about this wonderful native plant.

    1. The Brazoria refuge has this in their butterfly garden, and it’s prospered there. While it’s mostly in full sun, I’ve also found the vine growing in dappled or even heavy shade, although it doesn’t produce as many flowers in those conditions. If you want, I can watch for seeds for you. The plants seem to continue blooming even while some flowers produce seeds, so there’s a long season for seed-gathering.

    1. This one is happy in your state. I don’t know how widespread it is, but it’s shown on the maps in at least 3/4 of your counties. It’s a favorite of bees, and has a long bloom time. It will begin setting seedheads by early summer, but down here it will continue to bloom sporadically until frost.

    1. Isn’t it a great shape? There’s a scarlet leatherflower that has the shape size and shape. It grows in Steve S.’s area, but not down here on the coast. I’d love to see the purple and the red growing together.

    1. I had to smile at the butterfly. It clearly was shade-seeking when I found it, very near noontime. It was sunny as could be, and very hot. I’ve never thought of butterflies wanting to take a break from the heat, but this one clearly did. I’m glad it decided to come back out.

    1. I’d always seen them as lanterns rather than hats, but once someone mentioned hats to me, I could see that, too. I’m sure the leather flower name arose because of their texture. They’re quite a ‘solid’ bloom, and have a nice, thick feel to them.

  9. Beautiful! Change forest for vine, and it’s as if Robert Louis Stevenson was referring to your post when he said “It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”

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