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.

In Memoriam

Curly Clematis (Clematis crispa) ~ Gone, but not forgotten

Hidden away beneath a tangle of dewberry, frog fruit, and milkweed, the tiny wonder lay only inches above the ground. A flash of purple drew my eye to its crinkles and curls, aglow even in the dim light of a cloudy afternoon.

I talked to the flower as I photographed: affirming its beauty and fussing at it for its ground-hugging behavior. Finally satisfied, I returned to the car, took off my boots, and prepared to leave.

Only then did I see the future, traveling toward us at the pace of a county mower. As the machine worked its way along the small road, enthusiastically chewing up everything in its path, a great cloud of grass, gravel, and dust rose above the shredded winecups and flattened milkweed. When I looked, my clematis had disappeared.

Inexplicably grieved, I watched the mower move off into the distance, and asked myself:

How often does a need for imagined order bring beauty to an end? How many wonders have we unknowingly destroyed? How many treasures will we allow to disappear, never to return?

Would I have placed myself in front of the mower to protect that single clematis? Probably not. Of course not. But will I remember my impulse to do just that? I certainly hope so. There’s a world depending on such impulse.


Comments always are welcome.