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Clematis for the Chesapeake

In early September, small white flowers appear in clouds where Clematis Virginiana is blooming.


Clematis Virginiana

The flowers create quite a scene en masse. This is a twining, perennial vine that loves to billow along a fence or wall.  It’s pretty easy to grow as it tolerates sun, part shade or shade and has average water requirements.

There is no shortage of common names for this vine. Depending on where you are, it may go by “virgin’s bower,” “woodbine,” “devil’s darning needles” or “old man’s beard.”  Whatever you call it, it attracts hummingbirds, bees and butterflies.

The vine above on a low fence was started from a one quart pot three years ago. It was slow to get started and seems to validate the gardening maxim: in year one new plants sleep, in year two they creep, and in year three, they leap.  This bloomed for the first time in the third summer.

Another invasive vine very closely resembles Clematis Virginiana.  ‘Sweet autumn’ clematis (Clematis terniflora) is from Asia and very vigorous. From the slightest distance, the two vines in bloom look alike. They also bloom at the same time.

The easy way to distinguish between the two is the leaves.  The leaves of native Clematis Virginiana are grouped in threes and are a lighter green. The leaves of sweet autumn clematis are darker green and more leather like in texture.

‘Sweet autumn’ clematis is commonly for sale in nurseries and both Clematis terniflora and Clematis paniculata are called ‘sweet autumn’ clematis.   I inadvertently planted Clematis terniflora in a previous garden, thinking it was the native vine.  My first clue should have been how quickly it covered a tall fence and began blooming – too good to be true!

When you buy Clematis Virginiana you may think it looks delicate or be skeptical that it can bloom with hundreds of flowers, but once mature, it does! Clematis Virginiana blooms in September; attracts pollinators; is pretty to look at; and is flexible in its sun and moisture requirements.  It can be cut all the way back once the foliage dies and it will grow anew the next year. It’s a great choice for your Chesapeake garden.

More info:

A succinct summary about Clematis Virginiana from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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