This section is from the book "Sub-Alpine Plants Or Flowers Of The Swiss Woods And Meadows", by H. Stuart Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Sub-Alpine Plants: Or, Flowers of the Swiss Woods and Meadows.
Herbs with alternate or radical leaves, or in Clematis, climbers with opposite leaves. Leaves often cut and flowers solitary or in terminal racemes. Sepals distinct, usually 5. Petals distinct, usually 5, but sometimes deformed or very minute or altogether wanting. Stamens numerous, inserted on the receptacle. Carpels several, distinct or partially united, each bearing a distinct style and enclosing a single cell with one or more ovules or seeds attached to the base or inner angle of the cavity. Many possess acrid or poisonous properties, and several are used in medicine. A family widely spread over the globe, but especially in temperate or cool climates, and comprising about 700 species. In the tropics almost entirely confined to high mountain ranges.
Stem usually climbing and often woody at the base. Leaves opposite. Sepals 4 or 5, volvate in the bud, coloured and petal-like. No real petals. Stamens numerous. Carpels numerous, 1-seeded. Widely spread over the globe, and almost the only representative of the family in tropical climates.
A creeping shrub. Stem branched, woody, spreading, decumbent or climbing, swollen at the joints, scaly, leafy, and provided with 3-branched dry tendrils (the dead leaf-stalks of the previous year). Leaves opposite, stalked, usually doubly ternate and slightly hairy; segments ovate-lanceolate, acuminate, unequally serrate, often lobed or connate at the base. Flowers large and solitary, violet, on long stalks, axillary, dependent. Petals small, erect, spathulate. Sepals lanceolate, erect or patent. Carpels terminating in a long beard, by which they are disseminated by the wind.
Stony places in the Alps, and in woody sub-alpine districts, especially on limestone; often covering rocks and shrubs. 2500-7000 feet. June to August. Occasionally in shady valleys down to 2000 feet.
Carpathians; Eastern, Central and Western Alps; rare in Switzerland (Grisons, Bernese Oberland, etc.); Transylvania, Northern Russia, Lapland, Northern Asia, and North America.
A taller climber than the last, its woody stems being sometimes as thick as the wrist and several yards in length, whilst the young shoots spread greatly over shrubs and trees, to which they cling by their twisted petioles. Leaves pinnate, usually with 5-stalked segments. Flowers greenish white, in loose panicles at the ends of short branches. Carpels with long, feathery awns, which give the plant the name of Old Man's Beard.
Hedges, thickets and open woods, especially on limestone. Occasionally ascending to the sub-alpine zone in Switzerland. July and August.
Central and Southern Europe; France, England, Caucasus.
In France the long stems are used in basket-work, the leaves given to beasts as fodder, and the young shoots are occasionally eaten by the. peasants.