Clematis Plant and Clematis Flower
Clematis Plant / Clematis Vine
The clematis plant has been grown in this country for centuries, but the only native species is Clematis vitalba or old man’s beard. Its common name stems from the masses of fluffy seed heads that it produces in the autumn. According to various herbals, the stems were also smoked by shepherds and gypsies – hence its local name shepherd’s bacca.
Late in the 16th century, Clematis viticella and C. integrifolia were introduced into Britain from Europe. These were followed in quick succession by C. cirrhosa, flammula and the herbaceous C recta.
One or two species came over from newly opened parts of America in the 17th century, but the most exciting introduction arrived from China around 1776. This was a form of Clematis florida with double greenish-white. It was probably the variety now grown under the name plant’s sister C. florida ‘Sieboldii’ followed in 1836, together with two other Chinese species, C. patens and C. lanuginosa.
The decades that followed saw an explosion in the number of plants introduced. Hardly a year passed without the appearance of some new and exciting variety, usually from China or the Far East, The first recorded clematis cross was carried out by a Mr Henderson, and was between Clematis integrifolia and C. viticella. This resulted in the hybrid C X eriostemon, which is still available today.
The biggest advances in clematis breeding were with the three original Chinese species, Clematis florida, C.patens and C.lanuginosa, which are jointly responsible for all the large-flowered hybrids that we grow today, C florida crossed with C.patens or C.lanuginosa produced the double hybrids. C. patens was responsible for the large-flowered forms that bloom early in the year but only once. C lanuginosa gave us the so-called twice-flowering forms, which flower early on old wood and again later on the new shoots, C ‘Nelly Moser’ is a classic example of the latter.
In the late 19th century clematis hybrids were being introduced at a gallop. New cultivars, usually bearing the name of some member of the nobility, were offered to an eager public with ever-increasing frequency from nurseries all over Europe.
Huge displays were created, andwere so popular that they were even being used as bedding plants. All went well until the turn of the century, when the clematis vine went out of fashion.
This slump in popularity in the clematis plant is attributed to the onset of the clematis wilt disease, which first made its appearance about this time. This certainly would not have helped, but one cannot help wondering whether the sheer varieties, many of them very similar in appearance, did not make the task of choosing between them so tiresome that people moved on to other things. This is a danger that we could easily be facing again. How many different types of Clematis tangutica, C. montana or C.’Nelly Moser’ do we need before we finally give up trying to decide which one to grow?
However, with the advent of good-quality colour printing, and more importantly colour television, the clematis plant then started to regain their popularity. There is nothing quite like a well-grown clematis for providing a ‘photo opportunity’. Gardeners and nurserymen have started to show and use these plants more adventurously, so that clematis have at last regained their rightful place as one of the most decorative and useful of garden plants.
The Clematis Flower
Clematis is the common name given to members of the plant genus Clematis, which in turn belongs to the family Ranunculaceae. This family also includes garden flowers such as anemones and delphiniums, with the buttercup as a native example.
The word ‘clematis’ is derived from the Greek word klema meaning a vine-branch, reflecting the way the plant grows and clings to its support.
The clematis flower is very unusual in that it has no petals. The sepals of the clematis flower, which in other plants cover the emerging flower, have evolved to take the place of petals, and it is these that make the flower so colourful. Sometimes, as with the double varieties, some of the stamens in the clematis flower have also taken on the appearance of petals.
The size of the clematis flower varies enormously, from a myriad of tiny stars to the large flowers produced by certain hybrids, which under the right conditions can grow as large as a dinner plate.
The stamens, or male parts of the flower, can also be brightly coloured, yarying from bright gold to a muddy brown. They are a useful means of identifying different cultivars within the same colour range.
After pollination, the female part of the clematis flower swells to form a seed head. Each ripe seed head has a fluffy tail that is carried on the wind, enabling the plant to disperse its progeny. On some species of clematis plant, notably Clematis tangutica, the seed heads are beautiful in themselves, providing yet another source of pleasure that may continue for many months.