Clematis columbiana

Clematis columbiana, Columbian Virgin's Bower
 Below Hillsboro Peak Black Range, New Mexico
May 25, 2015

Clematis c. columbiana, Columbian Virgin’s Bower (a.k.a Rock Clematis), is a plant typically found in moist areas at higher elevations in the Black Range.  The photograph above was taken just below the summit of Hillsboro Peak but we have also seen it in Railroad Canyon.

The species was first described (as Atragene columbiana) by Thomas Nuttall in 1834, in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences.  John Torrey and Asa Gray gave it its current scientific name in 1838, in the Flora of North America.  Synonyms (previous scientific names) include Clematis pseudoalpina and Atragene pseudoalpina.

The Nlaka’pamux (Thompson Indians) are reported to have used this species in preparing a head wash for scabs and eczema.  

The Missouri Botanical Garden maintains the specimen shown to the right (from Tropicos).  This specimen is of particular interest here because it was collected by Augustus Fendler during May/June 1847 when he was collecting near Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Fendler is a name well known to botanists in the southwest of the United States and is often credited as being the first botanist to collect in this region.  Many of the plants in our region bear his name as part of their common or scientific name in recognition of his significant contributions.  

Fendler and George Engelmann (another huge name from our botanical history) became friends in the mid-1840’s.  It was Engelmann who acted as Fendler’s sponsor and arranged for the Army to provide free transportation and provisions for his first collecting trip to the area around Santa Fe, New Mexico.  An excellent biography of Fendler exists, see “Augustus Fendler (1813-1883), Professional Plant Collector: Selected Correspondence With George Englemann” by Michael Stieber and Carla Lange, published in the “Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Vol. 73, No. 3, 1986”.  This article can be read, for free, via a free subscription to JSTOR.

Less known are his efforts to understand gravity.  In 1874, he published “The Mechanism of the Universe and the Primary Effort-Exerting Powers...Twenty-Four Propositions on Gravitation...”

Those who make significant contributions often do so at significant personal hardship, this is certainly true of Fendler.  It makes my walk up Hillsboro Peak to see a specimen of this species trivial.


© Robert Barnes 2018