Species distinguishing characteristics:
- Woody, vine-like stems
- Nodding lavender-blue flowers with 4 pointed sepals at leaf nodes
- Flowers often remain closed and resemble hanging lanterns
- Opposite leaves are divided into 3 pointed leaflets
- Clusters of seeds tipped with feathery silvery-white plumes
- Numerous male (stamen) and female (pistil) organs
- Pistils and seeds (or seed capsules) with a small spur at the tip
- Fruit is a berry or 1-celled capsule that opens along a seam
- Many family members are poisonous
Vine-like perennial, 0.5 to 4 m long, with strong woody stems that climb on branches of trees and shrubs or creep along the ground.
Leaves and stems:
Slender stems and sparsely long- to woolly-haired foliage. Opposite leaves, 3-8 cm long, attached to the stem by long (5-10 cm) stalks that wrap themselves around branches and support the vine. Leaves are divided into 3 deep- to obscurely-toothed leaflets with a rounded base, a pointed tip, and an indentation on one side.
Solitary, nodding lavender-blue flowers on long, leafless stalks that arise from leaf nodes. Flowers lack petals, and are composed of 4 pointed sepals, 2-6 cm long, that look like petals and surround a dense cluster of pale yellow pollen stalks (stamen) and styles (tubular portion of female organ). Flowers often remain closed and resemble urn-shaped hanging lanterns.
Rhizomes and yellow roots.
A fluffy, mop-shaped cluster of long, silky, silvery-white plumes, 3-6 cm long, that attach to each inconspicuous, short-haired, hard-coated seed (achene). These enlarged feathery plumes are designed to carry seeds for long distances in the wind.
Moist to dry open deciduous and coniferous forests, thickets, talus slopes, and rocky areas, or shaded sites at low to subalpine elevations.
Columbian virgin’s-bower lacks the tendrils, or spiraling appendages, used by vines to climb. Instead, its leafstalks slow their growth on one side whenever that side touches a neighboring plant. Meanwhile, the other side continues to grow causing the leafstalk to encircle the object it touches.
All species of clematis (and many other members of the Buttercup family) have toxic alkaloids that can irritate skin and mucous membranes. It can be used externally as a fresh poultice for sore joints and swollen ankles. Skilled herbalists use clematis in a tincture to treat migraines.
The Blackfoot people’s name for Columbian virgin’s-bower was “Sto-o-katsis,” or “ghost’s lariat,” because its creeping ground stems often tripped people unexpectedly.