Nature Study: Old Man’s Beard

It’s hot these days in South Texas.  Really, really hot.  But waiting for perfect nature study weather is nothing more than a perfect excuse to stay indoors.  And I can’t stand being stuck indoors.  So we load ourselves up with tons of water, our favorite nature journaling supplies and off we go.

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We were out at Hilltop recently and I noticed the seeds on the Old Man’s Beard were maturing and leaving behind long feathery plumes.  With some flowers still in bloom and some with feathery plumes, it seemed like an ideal time for an object lesson so off we went (with friends in tow) to study Clematis Drummondii up close and personal.

{An object lesson, part of Charlotte Mason’s nature study philosophy, is a perfect opportunity to allow our children to become more observant.  We call upon them to carefully observe and examine an object using their five senses.  Object lessons should appear to be by-the-way, somewhat spontaneous discoveries where we are out and about and come across something fascinating.  Considering the fact that I am not well-versed in nature study and I am learning alongside my children, I tend to keep an eye out when we’re on a nature walk for items that I can use in our next lesson and then I prepare my object lesson before we head out.  I aim for one object lesson a week so my kids have time to absorb what they learned and to notice it in future nature walks.  I do require them to make a drawing and write down a few notable facts in their nature journals to help cement the object in their minds.  You can read more about object lessons here and here.}

Clematis Drummondii, also known as Old Man’s Beard or Texas Virgin’s Bower, is a vine in the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family.  To identify a flower as being a part of the Buttercup family, look for multiple simple pistils at the center of the flower.  You’ll also find that the pistils have hooked tips.  Clematis is a word from ancient Greek meaning “climbing plant.”  It can grow as a shrub but is most often seen as a climbing vine.

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The variation of Clematis that we have growing around here, in abundance, carries the name Clematis Drummondii in honor of the Scottish botanist Thomas Drummond who was an early plant explorer in Texas.

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Old Man’s Beard is a dioecious plant meaning the male and female parts grow on separate plants.  The flowers have four petal-like sepals that sport a light greenish-yellow, almost white, color.  The stamens on the male flowers are clearly visible whereas the female flowers grow more upright like pineapples.  Also, upon comparison, the male flowers appear larger than the female flowers.  The flowers bloom sometime between April and October and when the seeds on the female plants mature, the vine will appear to be covered with great masses of silky, feathery plumes.  The plumes are actually referred to achenes (covered seeds).  The achenes will last until December.

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While Clematis Drummondii is a climbing vine, there are no tendrils.  The leaves serve as hooks for climbing.  The leaves are opposite, pinnately compound and deciduous, with the blade divided into 3 to 7 stalked leaflets.  The plant itself is a perennial that thrives in full sun (just in case you want a fence climber in your backyard).

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The sap of the plant is caustic so while the foliage, stems and roots can be used for dye, they should be used with extreme caution.

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Clematis drummondii is host to the fatal metalmark butterfly.  The fatal metalmark butterfly is a common, tiny little butterfly.  It uses the vine as a larval host and as a nectar source.

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{Being intentional is so much easier done when we slow down and really look around us.  Personally, we spend a lot of time in nature, partly because we follow a Charlotte Mason education, but mostly because it keeps us intentional in our thoughts and actions.  I invite you, in these Nature Study posts, to join us in our intentional journey…to train your eye to be observant, to relish the intricacies of the amazing world we live in and to spend more time with the people you love stopping to smell the roses, so to speak.  If you are in the South Texas area (Corpus Christi and the surrounding cities), then you’ll find these nature lessons tailored perfectly to you and your family…see if you can find what we’re finding!  If you live somewhere beyond our beautiful little corner of the world then use these lessons as a springboard…see what we’re observing, allow yourself to be inspired and then just get out there and be intentional, observant, and grateful for all the little surprises right outside your back door.}

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