Traveller's Joy—Clematis Vitalba
This is an exceedingly graceful climbing plant with slender stems, which often runs thickly over banks and hedges in the south of England, preferring a chalky soil. The leaves are oval or heart-shaped, and pointed. The flowers grow in small clusters; the corolla is absent; and the calyx, which has 4 or 5 sepals, is yellowish green on the outside, and white within; it is about one-third of an inch in diameter. The seed-vessels are adorned with long feathery awns.
The plant is highly acrid, and in former days it is said that beggars used to bind leaves over scratches, and thus produce ulcers to move the compassion of the charitable.
Upwards of 20 species of insects are recorded as feeding upon this shrub, some being peculiar to it. Among these are several species of Geometridæ, or Looper Moths, the caterpillars of which have only 10 legs, 6 situated on the thorax and 4 near the end of the body, and therefore move by fixing their four hinder-legs, stretching forward and fixing their six front-legs, and then drawing up their hindlegs towards the others, thus arching their bodies into a loop. Often, however, they fix themselves by the hindlegs and stiffen themselves, when they present the appearance of a bare green or brown twig.
One moth, Phibalapteryx vitalbata, has been named after the plant. The caterpillar is bluish green, with a yellow line on the sides, and feeds on Clematis in autumn. The moth has rather pointed forewings, an inch and a quarter in expanse; it is light brown, with transverse brown lines, and a blackish oblique streak tapering from the inner margin of the forewings to the tip.
The following lines have been written on this plant:
The Traveller's Joy is a darling thing,
None loveth it more than I;
I've seen it in courtly gardens cling,
I've seen it 'mid rocks and ruins spring,
I know hedgerows where it's wandering,
And I smile as I pass it by.—Twamley.