Count on Clematis

Recently, my best friend and her husband moved into a charming suburban townhome that had previously been owned by an elderly woman with a penchant for perennials, having adorned her garden beds with black and brown-eyed Susans, various mints, a healthy Amsonia hubrichtii specimen in the middle of the yard that I (somewhat obnoxiously) begged and pleaded my friend’s husband not to remove (with the help of Mt. Cuba’s recent trials, they’re now both fully on board with its presence), and even poke weed as a fruiting ornamental for the birds.

Why do clematis seem to have such a stronghold on plant collectors? Well, it could be the carefree, easy growth that allows them to gracefully take over trellises and vertical structures, the wide range of bloom colors and shapes, or even the ability to attract hoards of butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden over the course of several months. Bell-shaped flowers, double and semi-double flowers, large flowers, small flowers, early blooming, late blooming… Clematis spans the range of possibilities for flowering vines unlike any other genus. The term “clematis” means “vine-branch” in Greek, which sort of implies that it is the penultimate vine to end all vines. Ironically, despite their modern-day popularity, clematis didn’t reach much public interest until the mid-to-late 1800’s, when a majority of the clematis hybrids that exist today were cultivated throughout much of Western Europe. The supply and demand of clematis throughout the last two centuries has fluctuated, as with any good garden or landscape plant, but they are very much here to stay and within recent years have experienced a resurgence in popularity.

Clematis belongs to the famously toxic buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, although it seems not to have acquired much of the vitriolic traits of its cousins. Many Ranunculaceae members contain the compound protoanemonin which is known to cause various physical irritations in both humans and animals. Interestingly, while protoanemonin is present in Clematis species, the additional phytochemicals found within the aerial parts of clematis vines have been found to have anti-inflammatory, nervine, analgesic, and anti-tumor activities, just to name a few. Traditionally, clematis has been used to treat ailments such as rheumatism, skin abrasions and disorders, bone-related illnesses, and various inflammations and infections. It turns out these traditional uses have some medical science to back them up – in vivo studies have shown clematis extracts to produce notable anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive effects, although this is highly dose-dependent. However, the results of these studies indicate the possibility of clematis species to be used in modern pharmacology, with the potential to be incorporated into allopathic therapies or used as an alternative treatment for specific ailments. In fact, a popular herbal extract known as JOINS, or SKI306X, comprised of the roots of Clematis mandshurica and Trichosanthes kirilowii as well as the aerial parts of Prunella vulgaris, is widely used in Korea for the treatment of osteoarthritis amongst other inflammatory illnesses.

While we don’t necessarily recommend harvesting your clematis for medicinal use without the help of an herbal practitioner or medical professional, we do absolutely recommend using them to add a pop of life and color to your spring, summer, and fall landscapes. When choosing your clematis, keep in mind there are three groups to help differentiate flowering times and types.

Group A: Early-blooming; flowers emerge on old wood

Group B: Spring bloom followed by smaller summer bloom; flowers are large in size, emerging on old and new wood

Group C: Late (summer and fall) blooming; flowers are large and emerge on new wood

We’re currently in the cusp of Group A and Group B clematis season, with a menagerie of color and flower types to admire throughout the remainder of the spring. For true clematis aficionados, having a mix of seasonal blooming times and colors means having a collection comprised of all three clematis groups for nearly year-round ornamentality. Allowing various clematis types to intermingle amongst one another on a trellis or pergola will give a lovely contrasting appearance between different leaf shapes as well as flower colors and forms throughout the growing season. No pergola? No problem! Clematis vines will scramble along the ground without a vertical support, actively making an effective flowering groundcover if permitted. Add them as an unconventional element in a container planting, where they can provide an element of verticality as well as soften up a container edge by spilling over the sides. If your clematis vine is still young and on the thin side, no need to fret – the general rule is that clematis vines need approximately three years to achieve their truest potential, at which point they will become a garden element sure to have horticulturists and plant newbies alike in a state of gawk and gander.

Clematis Vines: Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Clematis Vines (

Clematis | Home & Garden Information Center (

Clematis "Queen of the Vines" (

osu Selected Species and Cultivars (

Clematis vitalba L. aerial part exhibits potent anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive and antipyretic effects - ScienceDirect

The genus Clematis (Ranunculaceae): Chemical and pharmacological perspectives - ScienceDirect

Comparison of pharmacokinetics and safety of fixed-dose combination of SKI306X and aceclofenac versus separate tablets in healthy subjects - PMC (

Clematis for Small Spaces – Raymond J. Evison 2007 Timber Press Inc.

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Nelly Moser