Tuesday, October 24

Not-So-Sweet Autumn Clematis

I took this picture of my first Sweet Autumn Clematis (clematis ternifolia) blooms last week. I would like to say that planting it was an honest mistake, but I really should have known that the "white flowering clematis" I purchased at a local nursery last fall would turn out to be SAC instead of the native clematis virginiana, a.k.a. virgin's bower, that I wanted.

The white flowers are delicately pretty on both plants, but a little research would have told me that the smooth leaves were a dead giveaway that it was the non-native SAC. Due diligence on plant purchases is usually part of my whole process, but I failed on this one... seduced, I am shamed to admit, by end-of-season sales.

For the record, I am not a "natives only" militant but I like to use natives whenever I can. I will gladly use non-natives, however, if they are well suited to the site, fit my purpose, and are well-behaved. That last point is where the SAC seems to fail.

My online research points to clematis ternifolia being more prone to escaping the garden and invading natural areas in zones warmer than mine, but it has been known to escape. It is also known for being rather aggressive--some prefer the terms "robust" or "strong grower"--even when it stays in its general area. In fact, I could not find a consensus on which thug designation (aggressive, invasive, etc.) should be given to the Sweet Autumn Clematis, if it even deserves one at all.

All of this grey area gave me a perfect excuse to keep it around--for a little while longer, at least--and I really considered leaving it alone. However, I found myself avoiding that corner of the garden so that I didn't have to feel the twinge of guilt that seeing the plant created in my stomach. It simply had to go.

Sounds a little melodramatic, I know... and I would never advise someone who had Sweet Autumn Clematis growing in their own garden to rip it out immediately, or even lecture them on its pros and cons. (Purple Loosestrife might be another story!) But I think that every gardener has his or her own comfort level on the issue of invasive plants, and I have discovered that I personally am not very tolerant of even possible problem children.

I'm going to sound a little Pollyannaish, I'm afraid, but I like to focus on the positive. I can't singlehandedly pull up all of the garlic mustard, purple loosestrife, and other plants listed on Ohio's Top Ten Invasives list. I can't capture and kill all of the Japanese beetles, Emerald Ash Borers, and other introduced pests, either.

What I can do, though, is pull out a vine that may be a problem, and replace it with a better-behaved native plant that won't give me a guilt complex. I am leaning toward lonicera sempervirens 'Blanche Sandman'--a native trumpet honeysuckle with showy red and yellow flowers.

Of course, I won't be buying or purchasing this beauty until spring. Just because it's a native doesn't mean it's not invasive or a problem, so... I need to do a lot more research! Anyone grow this native vine and care to share a review? I would greatly appreciate it...


Karen said...

I don't know about any of the plants you mention, but I do know the feeling. I once bought a beautiful plant called Japanese Knotweed based on appearance only (it was a variegated version), knowing nothing about it. As soon as I found out what it was I was ready to rip it out, but it was late fall so I decided to wait until spring. The plant didn't survive the winter (leaving me doubly angry at the place that sold it to me).

With me the seduction usually comes from, "There's only one of these here and I've never heard of it. It must be rare." Of course it never occurs to me that it might be undesirable. ;-)

Kati said...

I admit I'm ambivalent on native/vs non-natives, as you probably already know. I am sensitive to the dirty looks planting some things like purple loose-strife would get me amongst the self-appointed garden police and I'm not happy to see what it has done to some of our native wetlands. And yet, a part of me is for anarchy in the belief that there is a constant jostling for space in the plant world.Things do move around the world, carried on wind and current. And I don't see anybody even suggesting that all the non-native grasses and vegetables introduced from other parts of the world should not be ripped out(as I'm trying, dammit, with the garlic weed around here!).
It is interesting to wonder how long it might have taken non-natives to arrive, say, in New Zealand without the aid of humans, or how environments continue to change and adapt. I do fear human intervention the most, in all the changes that occur, because I fear most of the time we badly fumble the ball, even when we mean well (eg, introduction of predatory ?asian ladybugs to 'control' aphids).

Annie in Austin said...

I think that a gardener with a refined conscience has it hard nowadays! Fifteen years ago we were aware of and battling with Garlic mustard and loosestife, but back then were able to just enjoy the heavenly scent of the sweet autumn clematis.

My clematis was planted on the north side of our garage, and Heavenly Blue morning glories were planted on the south side. In the spring we lay a strip of wire fencing [using some wood blocks to keep it off the roof] over the top toward the front edge of the garage roof, from north to south. The two vines grew all summer, meeting and entwining in a blue and white crown at the end of August. It looked spectacular for a family wedding.

I had it there for 8 or 9 years, and in that time had one seedling, which planted itself perfectly at the corner of a rail fence. So I'm not too sure it's invasive - and you know what? I'd probably still grow it in that setting, because there were no natural areas - it was solid suburb, and a little sweet autumn clematis could only have improved most of it.

On the other hand, Kim, I ripped out the fragrant, invasive Hall's Japanese honeysuckle that was in this yard, since there's not enough cold weather to kill it back in TX. I planted a native coral honeysuckle instead. It's nice, but the native ones have no fragrance.

There can be little consensus on what's dangerous in a country this big, with so many climates and conditions. You have to follow your own conscience, or stomach!

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Kathy said...

Well, SAC was one of the first plants I bought when we moved here, and I truly thought it was the wild and native one, which I had seen growing on my neighbor's land. Long story short, it lasted about 5 years but eventually petered out. I hadn't planted it in my garden, but in the pretty-much-left-to-its-own-devices Secret Garden, in which I only wanted to grow native to my area plants. A couple years after it died, the real Clematis virginiana showed up on its own.

And even when I stuck my nose right in it, my SAC was never fragrant.

Anonymous said...

Those end-of-season sales always get us.

I hear your point Kim but it still looks like a beautiful flower. Probably much nicer to admire in someone else's garden though.

lisa said...

I don't think SAC will really give you much trouble...I say keep it if you wish! As stated in previous comments, honeysuckle can become a problem, and Virgin's Bower is marching into the woodlands all on it's own up here in zone 4! The seedheads are visible now, and if you want to try it, I'd be happy to pluck some and send them to you thru the mail. But you know what they say, "Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it!"

Unknown said...

Karen, yikes! At the garden center where I worked last year, they brought in purple loosestrife and I threw a fit. I couldn't quite bring myself to hack at it or anything, but I did hide it behind shrubs and warn everyone who had it in their hands about the stuff.

Kati, I admit that I struggle with some of that, too. And I wonder--if things like purple loosestrife can and does grow everywhere, and nature is all about "survival of the fittest," is trying to save delicate ecosystems actually going against nature? Who knows? Why won't someone come and give us all easy answers to these things?

Annie, it's funny that you mentioned that you might grow it again in that situation... because I have thought the same thing. In this old suburb with houses and other suburbs all around, could it really do all that much harm? And then I see the garlic mustard still sprouting next to my garage and think that it had to find its way through that urban/suburban maze to find my yard. As I said above, I just don't know... I guess it's just a matter of trying to figure out what "the best you can do" is, and do it.

By the way, can I see a picture of that native honeysuckle? Sounds similar to what I want to put in...

Kathy, mine wasn't fragrant, either! I stuck my nose in it a few different times before I pulled the darn thing out, and got nothing. I figured it was another sign... *grin*

Stuart, you are probably getting tempted by those spring sales right now, no? Those always get me, too--just as bad as the fall ones!

Interesting point, Lisa... is there much difference in planting a non-native that invades natural areas vs. planting a native that behaves the same? Hmm. In any case, thanks for the offer of the seeds but I think that I'll pass. Worms, on the other hand... *wink*

Annie in Austin said...

Kim, when the sweet autumn clematis was in bloom you didn't have to bring your nose to it - the scent floated all over the adjoining garden. Maybe I just had a really good one? The original was a passalong plant.

Here's a link to the native coral honeysuckle that I grow:
Lonicera sempervirens

Other references say this vine will grow in your zone, but will probably lose its leaves for winter. Here it's considered semi-evergreen. It's on my June 14th blog entry, the photo gets a little bigger if you click.

June archives

The selection called 'Blanche Sandman' looks a little more orange in its photos - mine is just the species, I think, from a local organic native place near me.


Ki said...

Wow, your clematis tenifolia is blooming rather late. Ours has bloomed and gone for more than a month. We cut it back to a foot and a half that a nursery recommended. That darned thing grew so much it climbed a bank onto a blue atlas cedar and was entwined in the tree and a viburnum next to it - a height of at least 10-15 feet. At least the foilage was easy to get rid of. And no fragrance at all like yours even if books say that it has a great scent. Great comment on invasives and non natives.

Unknown said...

Ki, yours took over a blue atlas cedar and a viburnum? Impressive! (And I'm drooling over the cedar... I want one of the weeping ones to train along my driveway in lieu of a fenceline.) This natives/non-natives issue is really interesting, isn't it? These comments are giving me a lot to think about that I haven't before.

Annie, thanks for the info. Maybe the SAC's vary in scent? Hmm. Oh, and the links in your comment didn't work for some reason, so for those who want to see Annie's gorgeous coral honeysuckle, it can be found here:
(It must look amazing with that bluish purple snail vine.)

Craig said...

Thank you for inviting me over here Kim. I have also heard anecdotally that Clematis terniflora (sometimes mislabeled as C. paniculata) is short-lived in my 4b/5a area. I’ve grown and sold them retail but they never flowered in the pots so I can’t tell you anything about their fragrance. They did grow awfully big in those pots and it was a daily, and sometimes twice daily, chore keeping them watered and also picking them up when it was windy. Nice foliar contrast to the typical large leaf hybrids.

I have C. virginiana growing natively on shrubbery and have found many seedlings growing in the no-longer-corn fields. I could say it is a little weedy but the foliage is so beautiful – lots of red pigmented highlights - that I won’t.

I think the arguments for and against native/non-native and describing plants as invasive/aggressive depend on location (area in the U.S.) and each garden’s unique microclimate. Lythrum salicaria was not a problem in my little suburban garden near Oakland, CA but I wouldn’t think of introducing it here in New York, especially because of the fairly pristine boggy area I’m near. I planted Berberis (Barberry) three years ago. It is considered invasive but I have found only one seedling next to the older plants in that time. There are acres of Dandelions flowering in the spring yet they haven’t replaced the native plants. There would probably be more of the natives without the Dandelions but they all seem to have reached equilibrium. I don’t like them in my garden and I’m endlessly weeding them out but I also recognize they are one of the few early flowers for native bees in the spring.

Anonymous said...

Go the the DNR Website for Invasive Species in Wisconsin; and you will find many of the plants you have planted in your gardens. The DNR Website is the best place to go before you plant. Just a suggestion.


Unknown said...

Hi T., thanks for the suggestion. I am not in Wisconsin, but I do check the ODNR website for Ohio's Invasive Species before I do any planting in my gardens. I'm good for Ohio. :)

Anonymous said...

I just dug up my "Paniculata 'Sweet Autumn Vine'
It was taking over my garden

I had it coming up in the garden that is on the other side of my driveway (from the original plant)
It is also growing 30 feet away in front of my shed.
I find it coming up everywhere in the original garden. If I had let it go, I would have had nothing else but it in the flower bed.
there never was any scent

Chris Kreussling (Flatbush Gardener) said...

This Spring I dug up the C. terniflora (SAC) that came with the house, and replaced it with C. virginiana, which is proving equally vigorous (in the good sense) in the same location. I'm interested to see what kind of habitat it provides to my insect visitors.

Design to Grow said...

Seems like we have a lot in common: I have a naughty SAC, a green bean-eating pup and I used to live on the sandy shores of Lake Erie. Thanks for sharing your blog. Delightful!

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