another fine mess

I don’t lose much sleep over things like this, and, in a cosmic sort of way, I don’t care what botanists call my plant, but I would like to know anyway, because if it’s what I think it is, then I don’t have what I wanted it to be, and, therefore, I need to (get to) go plant-hunting again.

Make sense? No? Well, just wait a bit.

This is a clematis, catching the last rays of the setting sun. Let me just interject here that the English language has fairly consistent rules for pronunciation of Greek-derived words, and those rules say that CH is always pronounced as K (chaos, chasm) and that the words are accented on the antepenultimate syllable (apostrophe, catastrophe, and for you xeriscapers, agastache), and so, it’s clematis.

Anyway. Barr, in Jewels of the Plains, distinguished between Clematis columbiana (“a low vine with long-stalked, triparted leaves which clambers over bushes”) and C. occidentalis (“a low, deciduous perennial…”) which he said had formerly been mistakenly called pseudoalpina and tenuiloba. There is a picture of C. occidentalis, the “prize rock garden clematis” in the book. That’s the one I wanted. The prize plant. Naturally.

Well, I should stop for a minute and say that I knew someone who met Barr, and described him as a person who said if someone else was mistaken, they were mistaken. After all, a lifetime spent studying the plants of the Great Plains, when hardly anyone else was doing it, did mean something.

And in fact, even though I am going to say that Barr’s C. occidentalis is really C. columbiana var. tenuiloba, and that occidentalis is a completely different species and that the reason I know this (or the reason I’m saying this, which is not quite the same thing) is that, while both species, columbiana and occidentalis, have flowers of the atragene type (downward hanging petals) they are distinguished by their leaves, which in the case of columbiana (quoting from Flora of North America now) are “consistently 2-3 ternate” and ….I’m starting to get a headache…..and the difference between the plants themselves is that columbiana is “viny” and tenuiloba isn’t, and that botanists have never seemed to have been able to agree on anything about these plants, it’s because Barr was essentially right when he said people were mistaken about the names, since “clematis” and “mistaken” are practically synonymous here.

What exactly does “not viny” mean? My plant has stems that wander along the ground for about four feet and sometimes go up into a plant (like they are in the photograph). Is that viny or not? They lie on the ground, which isn’t what you think of when you think of the word “vine”. Flora of North America seems to think that’s okay, the stems can be “trailing.”

Leaves are illustrated here.

And this is a leaf from my plant.

But Weber, in Colorado Flora, says that occidentalis, which he calls Atragene occidentalis (and says that it’s what other people call Clematis columbiana) climbs on trees (my idea of a vine) with leaves of three large leaflets, not cleft.

I won’t even mention the other literature, like Rydberg’s 1906 Flora of Colorado, or the other floras, all of which disagree with each other, because now I’ve completely lost interest in this whole thing, and I’m really sorry this was so boring. I felt I had to say something about the picture I took of what I guess is Clematis columbiana var. columbiana.

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2 Responses to another fine mess

  1. So nice to see someone else wrestle with conflicting information….I often find myself cross-referencing and looking up botanical term definitions, rarely coming to a conclusion. I am completely bowled over by your explanation of how to pronounce “clematis”. I have pronounced it correctly since first discovering it and have tried to convince others that I’m right, but your reference to the principles for pronouncing Greek-derived words is the absolute gold standard of explanations!

    • paridevita says:

      Well, the guy I live with would point to the Oxford English Dictionary as final arbiter, too. I don’t know about other English-speaking countries, but here in the USA it hurts my ears to hear people bark out botanical names as though they were Klingon. (I should be the only one barking.)
      It isn’t even consistent. We’ve heard stachys (stack-iss)pronounced StoCCHHH-ees, but then, why not try to replicate the Greek gamma by pronouncing galanthus “rgal-an-toos”?
      It’s just silly, and my ears don’t like it. Talk English, please.

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