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Sweet Autumn Clematis

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Photo of sweet autumn clematis covering a stone wall.

Photo of sweet autumn clematis covering a stone wall.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Sweet Autumn Clematis:

Plant taxonomy classifies sweet autumn clematis as Clematis ternifolia. In this case, the genus name is so commonly used to refer to the plant in question that it essentially doubles as a common name; in such cases, I do not capitalize when writing "clematis."

Plant Type:

C. ternifolia is a deciduous, perennial, flowering vine.

Characteristics:

A climber that can tower 30 feet high or so, sweet autumn clematis makes a strong statement when it blooms in the autumn landscape. This twining vine's flowers are white, numerous and fragrant. When covering wood fences or similar structures, a sweet autumn clematis in bloom gives the appearance of a great fleece; in fact, if the name "fleeceflower" hadn't already been taken by another plant, the moniker would have served this vine admirably.

Planting Zones for Sweet Autumn Clematis:

C. ternifolia is indigenous to Japan and can be grown in planting zones 4-9.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Sweet Autumn Clematis:

Plant these vines in full sun to partial shade. C. ternifolia is not fussy about soil, as long as it is well-drained.

Care for Sweet Autumn Clematis:

Sweet autumn clematis blooms on the current year's growth. Prune this vine in early spring. Most people cut the plant down to within a foot or so of the ground. But if you wished to give your vines a "head start" to cover a large pergola, for instance, you could prune less severely (i.e., leave more of the old vines in place).

Caveat:

Because sweet autumn clematis vines can be invasive plants, some may wish to seek alternatives. Virgin's bower (C. virginiana) is a native alternative for Eastern North America. If you don't mind switching from numerous, small, white flowers to fewer, but larger, purple ones, simply grow any of the popular non-invasive types on the market, such as C. 'Jackmanii'. The latter, however, is a smaller vine, so don't expect it to cover large eyesores as well.

Uses:

Bloom time is late summer to early fall, when many other perennials are done blooming for the year, making C. ternifolia a popular choice for the four season landscape. Although it can be used as a ground cover, the plant is more commonly found draped over stone walls or scaling structures such as arbors. A well-situated arbor smothered with a blooming sweet autumn clematis in fall can certainly serve as a focal point in the landscape. The vine's white flowers make it effective in moon gardens.

Meaning of the Name:

It is the fragrant nature of the flowers that account for the "sweet" part of the common plant name. Meanwhile, bloom time makes this vine an "autumn" clematis. Finally, the ancient Greek klema (twig, branch) is the source for the word "clematis."


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