RIGHT IN OUR BACKYARD: The Power of Virgin’s Bower

In recent walks around Milton Road neighborhoods, I have been smitten by the clematis genus of white-flowered rambler commonly known as Virgin’s Bower.

a22 laywer 1
Published September 14, 2013 5:00 AM
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a22 laywer 1In recent walks around Milton Road neighborhoods, I have been smitten by the clematis genus of white-flowered rambler commonly known as Virgin’s Bower.

 

By Bill Lawyer

 

a22 laywer 1In recent walks around Milton Road neighborhoods, I have been smitten by the clematis genus of white-flowered rambler commonly known as Virgin’s Bower.

 

In spring and summer, Virgin’s Bower quietly grows along the edges of woodlands or in amongst untended rocks and shrubs. Most passers-by (myself included) don’t even notice them. Two prominent locations are on Crescent Road near Disbrow Park, and Milton Road by the Bird Homestead. 

 

But, starting in late August and running through September, these wild, unassuming vines suddenly become a bright glow of delicate floral drapery, with buds bursting open seemingly overnight and white flowers an inch in diameter. 

 

Some stuffy scientists might say that the name “Virgin’s Bower” derives from the fact that many plants discovered in North America by British botanists were given the species name “Virginiana” after Elizabeth, Great Britain’s “Virgin Queen.” 

 

a22 laywer 2Be that as it may, I believe when regular folk discovered this native North American plant, they were inspired to give it a more suggestive name, alluding to its decorative and mood-setting utility. 

 

Take the word “bower” for instance. The dictionary gives three definitions, two of which support my theory. The first definition is: “a shady, leafy shelter or recess, as in a wood or garden.” Am I being too imaginative conjuring up a scene whereby some amorous couple comes to a woodland shelter to join the birds and bees in an au naturel salute to fertility?

 

After all, the flowers have a delicate, sweet scent and they grow by “embracing” other plants or solid objects with twining tendrils. 

 

This image is further supported by the second definition: “a lady’s bedroom or apartments, especially in a medieval castle; boudoir.” In this case, perhaps flowering vines have been brought inside to mimic the sense of a more natural assignation. 

 

Further support comes from the fact that, according to Dr. John Hilty of the Illinois Wildflower Association, “a single vine can produce all staminate flowers (male), all pistillate flowers (female), or all perfect flowers (both male & female).” This allows for a wide range of reproductive and pollination strategies. 

 

While the plants are not edible, according to ethno-botanists, Native Americans boiled an infusion of them, which led partakers of the beverage to have “disturbing” dreams. 

 

I am not advocating for people to pick the blankets of flowers and bring them home.  Some are on people’s private property, and others are on public parkland. Their nectar is a great resource for those birds, bees, and other insects that visit them regularly. 

 

Rather, Virgin’s Bower vines should be left alone, so that they can inspire passersby to plant their own, and enhance Rye’s natural beauty, right in our backyards. 

 

 

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