blooming at last

July 22, 2010

by Kathy Klein, Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

This newly-opened deep blue/purple Will Goodwin clematis has six tepals and resembles the more commonly-called buttercup.
A healthy, young Claire de Lune (Claire) clematis awaits garden planting and a trellis while it climbs sticks for support.
Clematis drummondii or Old Man's Beard is a wild native variety showing seeds after the summer.
Picture in your mind flowers that are four to eight inches across or larger.

Imagine blooms that change over time. Consider too, that the plant climbs and realize that this plant, clematis, requires only a small footprint in the garden to produce a head-turning display.

No wonder this knock out of a plant is nicknamed the "Queen of the Climbers" by Clematarians due to its sheer flower-power and color.


With nearly 300 species of clematis, there is probably a clematis flower for every gardener's choice. What's more - there are 3,400 known varieties with 1,400 of them viewable on the web.

Botanically, the stems are mostly vigorous, woody, climbing vines.

Although there are numerous varieties, clematis usually has leafstalks that twist and curl around supporting structures to anchor the plant as it climbs.

Some species are shrubby, and some others are herbaceous perennial plants.

Pronounced KLEM-uh-tiss, perhaps its last syllable (-tiss) gives caution to its toxicity. Known throughout time as pepper vine, it has essential oils and compounds that are very irritating to skin and mucous membranes and can cause serious internal illness to animals and humans if ingested in large amounts.

Caution should be used in pruning. Wearing of gloves is strongly recommended.

No wonder clematis resists rabbits and deer.


From delicate white or yellow to deep purple and red, from strong blues to powerful or pale pink clematis provides a large variety of color choices.

Flowers are as large as saucers or as tiny as a dime.

They can be flat, bell-shaped, semi-double or double.

Most clematis flowers are unscented, however, some varieties are known for their scent, partly because they flower so abundantly. Clematis scents have been described as meadow-sweet, vanilla or even coconut from their different varieties.

Flowering times vary from early, to late, to long-seasoned.

Spring-blooming clematis flower on the previous year's stems, while summer or fall blooming clematis bloom only on the ends of new stems. Twice-flowering clematis do both at the respective times.

Some varieties put on a show of double blossoms in spring then rest and return with single blossoms in the late summer or fall.

With the diversity of clematis plants, having different vines in bloom from late winter through spring and summer and on to early autumn is entirely possible.


Well-drained, rich soil and relief from blasting sun and intense heat comprise a good location for clematis. Planting the crown well below the soil surface encourages multiple stems and protects the clematis in case above soil-level problems occur.

Once established, the plant is surprisingly hardy. Clematis has a deep root system and prefers roots to remain moist and cool. Part of the life-cycle of clematis includes a period of dormancy.

A support such as an upright trellis, fence, wall, tree or other plant or bush is essential for the climbing varieties. It is equally happy on trellising made of lathe, wire, bamboo, or rustic twigs.

At home on tuteurs, arbors and other garden structures, clematis creates eye-catching focal points to mark and punctuate your garden.

This vine partners well with shrubs and small trees. Hybrid clematis climbs through branches without smothering them, adding a second season to spring blooming. It also pairs well with another of its own varieties producing complementing and contrasting garden color.

Frost, insects, wilt and mechanical damage can eliminate above ground vines, but by planting crowns two to four inches deep, the roots are preserved and can begin growing once the damage or dormant season is past.


Clematis is a member of the ranunculaceae family, which is familiar as the buttercup.

One clematis that grows wild around here is the species Clematis drummondii, familiar to most as old man's beard. The same plant goes by the name traveler's joy, goats beard, leather flower and Texas virgin's bower.

If the perennial Old Man's Beard with its heat and drought tolerance can grow here, then a well-tended, improved garden plant that rewards us with as many as 100 flowers on a plant can certainly grow, too.

There are a number of native and one introduced clematis in Texas, according to the USDA Plant Database (

One of the natives is Clematis texensis. The native plant with its scarlet flowers was crossed with showier varieties of clematis to produce etoile rose, gravetye beauty, and duchess of Albany among other garden favorites, according to Wikipedia, the on-line free encyclopedia. Flowers of these crosses have four tepals, which are often called petals, in showy reds and pinks.


Clematis takes time to bloom. Duchess of Albany, for example, may take three years to become established. Flowering clematis vines are well worth the wait.

Vines in bloom are stunning additions to flower gardens.
"Head in the sun and feet in the shade" - a rule of thumb in clematis culture.

A trellis or other support is required for clematis to thrive.

Provide shade for base of the plant and mulch to insure a cool root environment.

Plant crown at least two inches below ground surface.

Six to eight hours of morning sun provides best flowering.

Afternoon shade preserves flower color; deep colors fade in sunlight.

Some varieties live and bloom in shade.

Clematis can grow up through other bushes, do not choke plant and provide additional color.

NAME                              NICKNAME                                               STATUS
Clematis columbiana         Rock Clematis                                             Native
Clematis crispa                  Swamp Leather Flower                                Native
Clematis drummondii        Old Man's Beard, Texas Virgin's Bower        Native
Clematis pitcheri                Bluebill                                                       Introduced
Clematis reticulata Walter   Netleaf Feather Flower                                Native
Clematis terniflora              Sweet Autumn Virgin's Bower                     Native
Clematis texensis Buckley   Scarlet Leather Flower                                Native
Clematis versicolor             Pale Leather Flower                                    Native
Clematis virginiana             Devil's Darning Needle                                Native            SOURCE:  EXTRACTED FROM USDA NRCS PLANTS DATABASE
Master Gardener Intern, Kathy Klein, is a clematarian with copyrighted photographs published at Clematis on the Web.  See her work at
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at