Plant of the Week: Virgin's Bower

Photo by Friends of the High LineVirgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) adds beauty and character to a winter garden – but don't mistake it for the invasive Clematis terniflora! Photo by Friends of the High Line

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Clematis virginiana, or virgin’s bower, is a beautiful reminder of a wonderful sight at the end of summer: Just when you think the season’s blooms are finished, this climbing vine bursts forth in a profusion of tiny white stars. Once pollinated, these fragrant flowers give way to persistent fluffy white seed heads, now visible where the flowers once were. The subtle beauty of these plume-like seed heads is the source of various common names – devil’s darning needles, devil’s hair, love vine, traveler’s joy and old man’s beard, to name a few.

This NY native vine is a great substitute for Clematis terniflora, or sweet autumn clematis, a rapacious invasive that can quickly take over your garden. But do not mistake the two! The leaves of Clematis terniflora are tougher and much more leathery. Clematis virginiana moves via twisting leaf stalks (petioles), and can climb to heights of twenty feet. Without support it will sprawl along the ground in waves. Though it prefers full sun to part shade, it will do quite well in deeper areas of shade, even producing blooms.

Although this plant has many ethnobotanical uses in Native American history (including the Cherokee tribe using an infusion of this and butterfly milkweed to treat backache), it is now considered poisonous, inducing severe mouth pain, burning sensation and mouth ulcers if eaten.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
Clematis virginiana can be found growing on the High Line on the vegetal screen near West 18th Street and on the railing just across the path.

Download our February Bloom Guide.

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