4 November 2012

No smoke without fire

When the clocks change and day length shortens, the fiery yellow and orange of turning autumn leaves gives a welcome flame-like light along hedgerows and roadsides.  Every now and then, these shining colours are muted by a silvery haze, almost like wood or bonfire smoke, where the ethereal seed heads of wild clematis clamber over the hedge.

The smoke-like appearance of the seedheads is rather apt, as in the past, dry lengths of stem were smoked like cigars - hence colloquial names for the plant like Boy's bacca, Shepherd's Delight and Poor Man's Friend (Grigson 1987). The hollow stems apparently had the quality of drawing well without bursting into flame!

More familiar names are Old Man's Beard reflecting the seed head's resemblance to a beard, and Traveller's Joy as it is a common and delightful plant of waysides and roadsides. As a vigorous climber that ramps along hedgerows I always think it is a very able  traveller or rambler in its own right.

The seeds too are good travellers, with the feather like appendages on each seed allowing the seed to 'fly' far and wide on the breeze.