Last fall Leonard and I were driving on Oregon 218 in Central Oregon when we noticed hillsides covered in what looked like snow. Upon investigation the “snow” proved to be vines in seed covering all the shrubs and trees. We had no idea what the plant was and its identification eluded me all winter.
This past weekend I was casually glancing through a shrub manual at the Klamath County Museum in Klamath Falls OR when there was my unknown vine – finally, a name!
Western white clematis (Clematis ligusticifolia) is a native, woody perennial vine that can grow up to 50 feet in length. It grows along the ground or tangles up and over treetops, shrubs or man-made features such as fences.
There are separate male and female western white clematis vines which often grow twined together. The male flowers have many stamens while the female flowers have many pistils and stamens that do not produce pollen. The white flowers are arranged in panicles. Leaves on the main stalk are pinately divided with 5 to 7 stalked leaflets. Hairy achenes (seeds) with long feathery tails give western white clematis a snowy appearance in the fall.
Also commonly called virgin’s bower, western white clematis is found in stream-side thickets, on wooded hillsides and in coniferous forests throughout Western US and Western Canada to the Central Plains.
Early settlers used this vine as a substitute for pepper giving it another colloquial name, pepper vine. This use of western white clematis was not without danger as the plant is essentially toxic. In large amounts ingestion causes internal bleeding of the digestive tract.
Native Americans used small amounts of western white clematis for migraine headaches, skin infections, colds, sore throats, eczema and boils. Crushed, dried leaves were also used as a snuff.
Now I am anxious to see western white clematis in bloom.