I drove to the beach two weekends ago and saw huge expanses of white flowers along the roadside through Tyrrell and Dare Counties. I recognized the vine immediately, but it has been a long time since I traveled that stretch of road in the fall. The flowers in question are Fall Clematis (Clematis paniculata), sometimes called Sweet Autumn Clematis.
A few weeks back I wrote about clematis. Most types are difficult to establish. This one isn’t. In fact it can be quite invasive. It’s great for covering buildings and the transformation is quick.
I have several of these vines along the edge of my property and they make a breathtaking fragrant natural screen. However, since they’re a vine they will grow on adjacent shrubbery and up nearby trees. I love these plants, but they can get out of hand.
This type of clematis flowers on the current season’s growth, so aggressive pruning is usually advantageous. Plants also tolerate partial shade and still flower heavily. Containing the vine is simple, since it can be pruned to the ground in spring with no ill effects. For that reason I don’t worry that it’s so aggressive.
Individual flowers are small and not dramatic like some clematis types. The impact of these vines is the true volume of bloom. Entire expanses can be white and the sweet smell is truly another plus. Plants also bloom late into the fall, often until frost. This year they aren’t hanging on as long.
Fall Clematis also doesn’t require cool roots like most types do. I’ve also found it’s more tolerant of high soil moisture too. Furthermore, this hardy vine is highly deer resistant.
That shouldn’t be very surprising. Clematis are in the buttercup family. That group of plants is notorious for being poisonous. Delphinium, wolf’s bane and hellebore are just a few examples of highly toxic ornamentals from that family.
We’re not planning to eat any of them, so I don’t consider toxicity a problem. One exception might be if this vine covered a pasture fence. Normally livestock would avoid it, because its palatability would be very low. However, if the pasture became severely depleted, the animals might resort to eating it. That could be disastrous.
Another potential problem might result for people highly allergic to bees. Bees and butterflies love these flowers. I always notice a constant hum when I walk out to admire my Fall Clematis. That said, bees are usually docile and don’t attack unless strongly provoked.
I think people can get paranoid if a plant is listed as poisonous. In most cases fears are overstated. Many flowers in our gardens are not safe to eat. Rarely is there ever a problem, but some folks freak out if they read a plant has toxic properties.
So don’t worry about Fall Clematis. Enjoy its aroma and explosion of white blooms. If it starts to get out of hand, simply prune it back to within a few inches of the ground in late fall to early spring. As for now, keep your eyes open along the eastern North Carolina roadsides. It’s out there.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School(firstname.lastname@example.org).