Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Clematis drummondii: a familiar take and a new one

with 44 comments

On August 17th I stopped along S. 10th St. in Pflugerville to photograph an embankment covered with Clematis drummondii that had gone into the fluffy phase that earned this vine the colloquial name “old man’s beard.” After walking almost back to my car I spotted one clump of strands drooping in a way I’d rarely seen. Naturally I got close to photograph it, and then I noticed the dead ant that’s near the bottom of the picture, along with a few other tiny dead insects inside the clump. My first thought was of a spider but I saw no evidence of one. Those insect deaths remain a mystery.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 27, 2018 at 4:57 AM

44 Responses

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  1. I love Clematis every season – lovely shots.


    August 27, 2018 at 5:58 AM

  2. Love the macro, Steve.


    August 27, 2018 at 6:29 AM

    • The macro is the picture that was new for me, even though I’ve taken plenty of macro photographs of this species over the last two decades.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2018 at 7:20 AM

  3. Oh my gosh! The bottom one looks like my hair in 1967. The top ones look like it now. How funny!
    I managed to see clematis in its puffy stage last year in southern Utah. The environment made it
    very interesting. Here in Va not so much so. These just show that there is beauty in many stages of a plant’s life.

    Dianne Lethcoe

    August 27, 2018 at 6:56 AM

    • And aren’t you the funny one! I’d thought about mentioning that the Clematis in the second picture looks to me like a wig, but then I decided to say nothing and see if anyone else got the same impression. Maybe you can take a photograph of your face from 1967 and use Photoshop or another program to blend it with the close-up of the Clematis.

      In Austin, Clematis drummondii gets to be much fluffier than the other two native species, and it’s also by far the most common of the three. That means we get to see lots of these “beards” in the second half of each year. I know of two stands in my neighborhood, each about half a mile from home. It’s good to hear you got to see some of that puffiness in Utah. I wish the grandeur of Utah were half a mile from home, too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2018 at 7:31 AM

      • Old man’s beard is a great name, but I agree it looks more like a wig to me.

        The dead ants are puzzling.

        Lavinia Ross

        August 28, 2018 at 10:58 AM

        • The first picture, which shows a much more common sight than the second, backs up the beard metaphor. You can understand why, as a photographer who’s long had a mostly white beard, I’m partial to the common name. In contrast, I’ve never worn a wig.

          As for the dead insects, I’ve wondered whether chemical spraying could account for that. We’ll probably never know.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 28, 2018 at 11:51 AM

  4. Both really neat shots!
    The first one, I glanced at my phone, and thought, oh, Steve’s visiting Yorkshire, and they’re bringing in the sheep for shearing.
    The second one is also great – and like Dianne, I also thought of hairstyles – – having trouble choosing between Ozzie Osbourne, early Rod Stewart, or Bon Jovi on a humid day.
    The ants appear to be dead?

    Robert Parker

    August 27, 2018 at 10:30 AM

    • I’m glad you like the double whammy. I can see why you’d think of sheep in the first instance; in spite of that, the metaphor has never occurred to me over the two decades I’ve been photographing this species. Call me slow. My initial take on the second picture was a wig rather than the actual hair on the head of a person.

      Yes, the little insects were dead, cause of death unknown. I wondered whether any chemical spraying had gone on nearby, given that the plant was right at the edge of the street.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2018 at 12:08 PM

  5. We have a native one also known as ‘Old Man’s Beard’ and ‘Traveller’s Joy’ – Clematis vitalba – in fact I have one climbing in my ‘wild’ garden area. The tiny flowers do have a slight almond smell. Your macro is a beauty! I also favour Rod Stewart 🙂


    August 27, 2018 at 1:27 PM

    • Leya, in her second comment, above, also mentioned Clematis vitalba, and I replied to her comment with more information that I’d learned about that species. Your statement about its flowers having a slight almond smell is the first I’ve heard about that. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed a scent from the flowers of Clematis drummondii, but I’ll try to remember to sniff some to find out.

      I’m glad you find the macro a beauty, even if Rod Stewart isn’t usually considered one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2018 at 2:55 PM

  6. It looks like our native chaparral clematis. Some people like the fluffy seeds more than the flowers. The flowers are supposedly not very impressive, and do not last long. I think I prefer the bloom, even if sporadic. The seeds are interesting, but can look grungy as they deteriorate and fall all over everything else if they get damp from the drizzly fog that moves in at about the same time of year. I saw them back in about 1989 looking really fuzzy and weird enough that I was compelled to go over and confirm that they were clematis. That was cool!


    August 27, 2018 at 1:56 PM

    • Clematis drumondii is actually sometimes available here in nurseries, while our native chaparral clematis is not.


      August 27, 2018 at 1:58 PM

      • I wouldn’t have guessed our local species is available in nurseries in California. My impression is that gardeners here, except maybe for some native plant folks, would consider Clematis drummondii undesirable, almost a weed. Maybe I’m wrong.

        Steve Schwartzman

        August 27, 2018 at 3:09 PM

        • You would not expect Yucca glauca to be available here either, but some of us really dig it. Some of my favorite yuccas are from Texas! The Clematis drummondii that is available in nurseries might be a garden variety of the species. I really do not know because I never considered procuring one. It might have been marketed as a native for a while. There are quite a few odd plants that can be found as natives here.


          August 27, 2018 at 3:39 PM

          • And just because a nursery says something is native doesn’t mean it is. An Austin nursery some years back advertised a “native Vitex.” I called up the company and pointed out that Vitex comes from other parts of the world. No Vitex is native here.

            Steve Schwartzman

            August 27, 2018 at 4:41 PM

            • ‘Native’ sells. Even plants that really are native to California are not necessarily native here. California fan palm (which is my favorite palm) is native to Palm Springs, but really dislikes the coastal climate in Santa Cruz. California, like Texas, is such a big and diverse place, that the Torrey pines that are native to San Diego County are about as native to Modoc County (In the northeastern corner of California) as the palmettos that live on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico are to Kansas City.


              August 27, 2018 at 4:50 PM

              • Right you are. Big states like California and Texas are countries unto themselves. Coastal Texas is another world compared to west Texas.

                Steve Schwartzman

                August 27, 2018 at 4:55 PM

    • I’d never heard of that species so I looked it up:


      Drizzly fog is something our local Clematis drummondii rarely has to contend with. Like your species, ours can get to looking a bit grungy as the feathery strands age in the summer heat. In the first photograph, that seems to just be getting underway in a few places. Four years ago I showed a distinctly grungier stage where some of the seeds had come loose:


      These vines have a lot to offer in all their stages.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2018 at 3:06 PM

  7. Nice Steve! I always learn something from your blog!

    Reed Andariese

    August 27, 2018 at 3:31 PM

    • Learning is fun. I don’t care about games, but give me a good book to read and I’m happy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 27, 2018 at 4:49 PM

  8. It’s Cousin It! Without his sunglasses!

    Judy Baumann

    August 28, 2018 at 7:50 AM

  9. I have mentioned before how we feel about our version of Old Man’s Beard in New Zealand. We are still trying to find a way to deal with it. https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/105582164/pest-busters-aim-to-trim-old-mans-beard-with-insect As for the ants, dead in the wig, I can only say that death by hair on a chinnie chin chin is a cruel way to go.


    August 29, 2018 at 5:36 AM

    • It’s one of so many non-native plants we saw in New Zealand. I’m sorry to hear how well-established it’s become there and that your country has spent millions trying to get rid of it.

      I can assure you I didn’t huff and puff and blow the old man’s beard in.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 29, 2018 at 9:07 AM

  10. I don’t see sheep in your second photo, but a sheep dog, with its little black nose poking out from the depths. I do love this plant, and have missed seeing it this year, although I have seen the developing seeds and fluff from Clematis pitcheri. The first photo reminds me of the froth that develops atop a pot of fresh lady creme peas when they first begin to cook.


    August 29, 2018 at 7:17 AM

  11. It resembles cotton, Steve. I wonder if anybody ever tried to spin it?


    August 29, 2018 at 1:06 PM

    • Good question. I searched a little but didn’t turn up anything except some fabrics with images of clematis printed on them. The strands turn feathery, and I wonder if that might impede an attempt to spin them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 29, 2018 at 3:02 PM

  12. it’s always great to see the clematis, and the second image reminds me of milkweed… as for the dead insects – yes, that is a good mystery…

    i’m at a ‘cyber’ and it’s loud – i’ll save this ont he screen to read the comments at home!

    Playamart - Zeebra Designs

    August 30, 2018 at 1:33 PM

    • Happy home-reading to you, in peace and quiet. I feel fortunate to have this Clematis growing in lots of places around Austin. It’s a hardy native (but not related to Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native).

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 30, 2018 at 3:30 PM

  13. If only I could have a head of hair like that.

    Steve Gingold

    August 31, 2018 at 6:50 PM

    • I’d suggest rubbing some of these plants’ sap on your scalp except that the sap of the European Clematis vitalba is known to irritate people’s skin and even cause sores.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 31, 2018 at 6:56 PM

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