Columbia Star

Showers of Sweet Scented Flowers

Stopping to smell the flowers



One vine which stages a spectacular show from late August until October is sweet autumn clematis, Clematis terniflora, a vigorous semievergreen or deciduous perennial vine captures attention by producing billowy showers of fragrant 1” wide white star-like flowers. As flowers fade, decorative fluffy silvery seedheads appear.

Although medium green heart-shaped leaves provide shade in the heat of summer, the vine remains inconspicuous until mounds of flowers appear along roadside ditches, forest edges, rights of way, vacant lots, and draped over trees and sheds. The best intended supports for a sprinter intent on spreading as far as 30’ include arbors, pergolas, fences, or trellises. Some gardeners let the vine ramble as a groundcover to prevent erosion.

Autumn clematis prefers well-drained loamy or clay-loamy soils but tolerates sandy conditions. A soil pH of 6.5-7 is preferred. While its foliage loves sun, its roots like shade, hence, mulching is recommended. Mulch clematis with composted manure or leaf mold to conserve moisture and keep roots cool. Maintain soil moisture throughout the growing season. The USDA hardiness zones for this ornamental are 4-9.

Autumn clematis in the Three Bears Homestead at the Carolina Children’s Garden

Autumn clematis in the Three Bears Homestead at the Carolina Children’s Garden

Leaves of this Japanese clematis have smooth margins and is one way to distinguish the nonnative from a look alike native species of autumn clematis with serrated leaves, Virgin’s Bower, Clematis virginiana. The native species has no fragrance.

Sweet autumn clematis has male stamens and female pistils within each flower. Virgin’s Bower has male and female flowers on separate plants. Anthers on sweet autumn clematis are longer than those of Virgin’s Bower. Both species attract pollinators including bees, flies, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Birds seeking the seeds contribute to spreading the vine.

The non-native twining vine is reputed to be invasive. Solutions to its invasive instincts are pruning, weeding, and support. Gardeners cut back stems to a foot off the ground in early spring. Removing seedlings as they sprout and mulching around plants discourages overpopulation.

The white star-like perfect flowers of autumn clematis

The white star-like perfect flowers of autumn clematis

Pruning immediately after flowering checks self-seeding. Enthusiasts propagate by seed, stem cuttings in early summer, and layering in late winter. The plant is often passed along at plant exchanges.

Autumn clematis vines are generally pest free but can succumb to wilt, rust, powdery mildew, and fungal spots. Leaves need to be monitored for earwigs, whiteflies, aphids, and scale insects.

The late-flowering clematis, a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), is one of the easiest clematis to grow. The fact that it blooms profusely and is fragrant in fall adds sensory enchantment to the landscape.

Fluffy seedheads on Clematis terniflora

Fluffy seedheads on Clematis terniflora

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