We've been passionate about nature for most of our lives, so we've spent a good bit of our free time in the outdoors. All that time out of doors has coincided with all the four seasons, and all sorts of weather, and all sorts of ecosystems, and sometimes we begin to believe that we've seen most of what nature has to offer.
Inevitably, just about the time we begin to get that feeling, along comes a surprise to take us down a notch and remind us just how very little we really know of nature.
This weekend, we received one of those surprises in the form of an inconspicuous little vine, quietly passing the time in a swampy old creek bottom, intertwined with the blackberries and honeysuckle and poison ivy and greenbrier.
It was our good fortune to pass this way at a slower pace than usual, due to the rough condition of the primitive gravel road on which made our way through the wood; for had we passed at a speed approaching normal highway speeds, we would never have noticed the leathery pink bell-flowers dangling like dainty plum-tinted street lamps from their nodding purple lampposts.
As is often the case when nature shares something new, we recognize these fantastic little flowers from the pages of our field guide, though this is our very first face-to-face encounter.
Leather flower, Clematis, Viorna group of species.
According to a cursory review of online sources, the Viorna group includes some 8 or 10 or more distinctly different versions of leather flower.
Leather flower presumably refers to the thick, deeply ridged "petals" (actually joined sepals) of the flower itself, which separate at the tip and curl back upon themselves, as well as the leathery-textured leaves of some species.
Also known by names as diverse as American bells, vase flower, curly clematis or curl flower, this is another native North Carolina clematis, sharing a similar trifoliate leaf arrangement with fellow clematis vine virgin's bower, Clematis virginiana.
But, as you can see from our many pictures, leather flower sports a much different blossom than the massive profusion of fragrant white blossoms borne by virgin's bower.
It's been a thrill, as always, to encounter something new and wonderful in the wild, and Saturday's acquaintance leaves us with more research to do before we'll be satisfied that we have a specific ID for our new friend.
We'll give you an update when we arrive at that point, but in the meantime, feel free to offer guidance or suggestions if you recognize this lovely flower from your own rambling in the wilds of Carolina.
And if not, here's hoping you have a chance to get outside soon, perchance to experience a similar surprise of your own.
As for us, maybe we'll go back when the berries are ripe and see how our new friend is getting along...