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Part of the buttercup family, our native clematis shares that family’s mild toxicity. This woody vine “climbs” using leaf petioles which have adapted to be springy and grasping. It can grow to up to 20 feet (6 m) or longer, if it has something to climb up or along. It has oppositely arranged compound leaves divided into three long-stemmed leaflets with large irregular teeth. White flowers emerge in August in two long panicles arising from the leaf axil. The flowers have no petals but rather petal-like sepals. The flowers develop into long plumed seeds which look like they are adorned with feathery tails.
Clematis thrives in sunny and moist sites such as stream banks, ditches, and forest edges. It will tolerate light shade if the soil is not too dry, such as open woodlands in riparian zones.
Our native clematis is surprisingly easy to propagate, either from seed or cuttings.
Collect the seed when dry from September to late October. It is a bit difficult to separate the seeds from the fluff, so just plant everything every 2 inches (5 cm) in rows 4 inches (10 cm) apart, at a depth of 1/4 inch (6 mm). Cover with a light mulch, and most seeds will germinate in the spring.
You can also take winter cuttings when the vine is dormant. Make the top cut just above the bud, and the bottom cut about 6” (15 cm) below that. Store in slightly moist soil in a plastic bag in a refrigerator. In the spring, plant the cuttings with the bud about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the surface in a shaded nursery bed about 4 inches (10 cm) apart in all directions. Cover with a light mulch, and before too long the cutting will grow roots.
As with all cuttings and seed collection, please remember that you need to have permission and that you want to be careful to only take a small amount.
Clematis have a number of uses to wildlife. The flowers provide nectar to pollinators, their tangled mass can create excellent nest sites, and the fluff on their seeds makes great nesting material.
Areas of Usage:
Clematis is another versatile native plant. Tolerating light shade, thriving in sun, and its ample wildlife benefits make clematis an excellent plant for restoration along forest edges and riparian zones. Its showy flowers, delicate fluffy seeds and climbing abilities make it an excellent plant for landscaping, beautifying your yard while providing a host of ecological benefits. Clematis is not always the most prolific climber and will end up a tangled mess on the ground if it isn’t provided something to climb on.
Although it can ascend up various shrubs and even spruce trees, clematis will compete for light with these other species. Some kind of trellis or even a system of strings can be crucial to keeping your vine growing up rather than out. Clematis will also require some light pruning when used for landscaping, although it is like trying to tackle a sprawling grape vine.
Our native clematis is often confused with purple flowered clematises. Ours sports a white flower. Although the purple species is beautiful, it is not native. One of the big differences in using non-native varieties rests on the ecological connections inherent in an ecosystem. Our native clematis has spent millennia co-evolving with other various native species, creating coordinated connections such as flowering time and when its main pollinators are active. Using non-natives can disrupt these relationships.