Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Purple Clematis - Clematis occidentalis   (Hornemann) de Candolle
Members of Ranunculaceae:
Members of Clematis with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Ranunculales » Family Ranunculaceae
Author(Hornemann) de Candolle
DistributionKnown for certainty only in the northern Mountains (Ashe County), where there are two currently known populations. A sight report, in the NCNHP database, from Buncombe County several decades ago was never corroborated/confirmed and is not included on the map below.

This is a Northern and Western species, widely occurring across Canada, and south in the East essentially only in the Appalachians, through western VA to extreme northern NC.
AbundanceVery rare; just in Ashe County, where known from two Mountains. This is a State Special Concern species.
HabitatThis species has quite particular habitats in NC -- essentially only on rocky but rich soil over amphibolite rock. It occurs on shaded hardwood forested slopes at high elevations, where rocky.
PhenologyBlooms in May and June, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is an herbaceous vine, climbing to about 6 feet long. It has scattered leaves generally in 3 to a whorl. Each leaf is composed of 3 leaflets, each on a long stalk up to 3 inches long, and the blades are ovate to lanceolate and about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide, mostly entire or with a few teeth. There is a single flower at each of a handful of leaf nodes on a stalk about 2 inches long. The flower is unlike any other in NC -- 4 thin (not thick like some in the genus) blue to lavender-blue sepals that are 1.5-2 inches long, angled forward but not wide-spreading, such that the flower appears only partly opened. Only a very few people have ever seen this species in NC, sadly. But, it is worth searching for it on a few of the higher elevation mountain slopes in Ashe County, but in the more remote and inaccessible places. In reality, to see this remarkable plant you will need to venture north of the state.
Taxonomic CommentsThis species has several varieties, with the one in the East being the nominate C. occidentalis var. occidentalis. Many decades ago, the species was named as C. verticillaris -- as in RAB (1968).

Other Common Name(s)Mountain Clematis, Western Virgin's-bower, Western Blue Virgin's-bower
State RankS1
Global RankG5
State Status[SC-V]
US Status
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B.A. Sorriephoto taken 1988 on sandstone ridge in Holyoke, MA. Photo_non_NCPhoto_non_NC
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