The Clematis, The Clitoris, An Ostrich & The Spotted Hyena

Clematis ternata, October 1, 2014 — Scan Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Just this past week I listened to poet Alastair Reid, who died this past September 21 read his beautiful poem on cats (and dogs) Curiosity. I listened to how he pronounced idyll in the line below:

where living is an idyll

It was as surprising to me as many years ago when I was listening to the BBC as young man in Mexico City and the announcer uttered Himaaleeas. It seemed that he was talking about a chain of mountains bordering Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.

Another favourite of mine is the strange aroid, Arisaema which we might pronounce A-ree-sa-ee-maw. But then I listened to an English botanical judge say: Arí-si (as in Sicily) –maw. If you pronounce it that way while lifting your nose up into the air, the plant sounds so much more exotic. This particular aroid has family members that can raise the temperature of their spadix (aroid flowers are called inflorescences) from the surrounding atmospheric temperature, so they can disseminate its often foul odor and attract insects like flies. So much for some vertebrates being the only warm blooded specimens in nature.

I will now persist in my narrative involving sexual organs. My fave (in reference to its history and nothing else!) is the clitoris via the clematis. More on that somewhere at the bottom.

My wife Rosemary and I both garden. We each have favourite plants. Most of the time we keep civility in check when her plant or my plant becomes invasive or is a pain in the neck in some way.

Rosemary loves the clematis which is given the botanical epithet “Queen of the Vines”. When you think of the beauty of the passion flower (Passiflora) I would in less diplomatic inclination to argue that point.

The clematis is a fragile vine; its stems have to be treated with extreme care. If you bend the stems, like folding a paper, you cannot unbend them and they will die. But that is where fragile side of the plant ends and in many varieties you have an invasive variety that in some cases, like that other thug, the wisteria, can bring down a house.

To keep them in check and to have them properly bloom there are three (perhaps more and I don’t want to dwell on that) types that require pruning at different times of the year. Many of these Rosemary faves do not have any scent (but some ,yes!, and do so quite sweetly). Like many camellias and hibiscus their beauty fools you. You get close to the wonderful flowers and you get nothing.

But right now, October 1, there is a wonderful, white and fragrant clematis, Clematis ternata blooming on our boulevard fence. It has managed to climb up the very large Thuya plicatta (Western Red Cedar) and if I don’t prune it, it could possibly drag down the tree (not really, I am only exaggerating).

Scanning the flowers is an almost impossible job. If you place them on the scanner glass the white flowers over-expose. If you hang them over the glass then only the closest will look as they do on the vine.

I will have to admit here that Rosemary’s clematis (no idea of the plural form) have their moments.

Now to the connection between clematis and clitoris. The connection is that both words have etymological routes in Greek and both words in Greek are accented on the first syllable. Thus:

Clém — atis and Clít- toris (clídoris)

I love going to the desks of elderly master gardeners ready to answer your questions at garden centers during the growing season. I like to ask them, “How do you pronounce c, l, e, m, a, t, i, s?” If they pronounce it the non Greek way, I then ask them, “How do you pronounce c, l, i, t, o, r, i, s?” I am usually sent packing.

I cannot resist here to quote that handy Wikipedia on a hitherto known fact about the clitoris, the ostrich and the spotted hyena. Here it is:

The clitoris is a female sex organ present in mammals, ostriches and a limited number of other animals. In humans, the visible button-like portion is near the front junction of the labia minora (inner lips), above the opening of the urethra. Unlike the penis, the male homologue (equivalent) to the clitoris, it usually does not contain the distal portion (or opening) of the urethra and is therefore not used for urination. While few animals urinate through the clitoris, the spotted hyena, which has an especially well-developed clitoris, urinates, mates and gives birth via the organ. Some other carnivorous animals, or mammals in particular, such as lemurs and spider monkeys, also have a well-developed clitoris.

Link to: The Clematis, The Clitoris, An Ostrich & The Spotted Hyena

Originally published at

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at:

Into Bunny Watson. I am a Vancouver-based magazine photographer/writer. I have a popular daily blog which can be found at: