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Clematis vitalba, old man's beard


Clematis vitalba may be a beautiful plant but it was said to do the Devil's work for him by trailing into the other plants and choking them.



Clematis vitalba, old man's beard

Clematis vitalba, old man's beard

Meaning of the Name

Latinised version of the Greek ‘klēmatis’ which itself comes from ‘klēma’ meaning ‘shoot’ or ‘twig’ and, thus, a plant which produces many shoots, that is, a climbing plant.
There is no definition of ‘vitalba’ available. The online definitions are all circular; ‘Clematis vitalba’ means “Old Man’s Beard” and vice versa. ‘Old Man’s Beard’ is said to come from the trailing white achenes produced by the plant so it may be that ‘vitalba’ is simply a conjunction of ‘vita’, ‘life’ or ‘mode of life’ and ‘alba’, ‘white’.

Common Names and Synonyms

old man's beard, traveller's joy, virgin's bower, ladies' bower, love vine, traveller's ivy

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

Contains protoanemonin. Ingestion leads to severe abdominal pain, gastrointestinal irritation and has caused death in cattle though it is not usually eaten because it has an acrid taste and contact can cause skin irritation.


A case of poisoning in animals was reported in 1971 but it has not been possible to obtain any further details.

No human poisonings have been reported.

Folklore and Facts

Traveller's joy was associated with the Devil because it does his work for him by trailing into other plants to choke them. It is also connected with the Virgin Mary, and God, because of its white feathery look.