Clematis vitalba is the wild cousin of our many cultivated Clematis plants. One of the common names is Traveller's Joy, it can be found in woodland margins, scrub and thicket and hedgerows on calcareous soils.
It is a perennial climbing shrub with branched stems. It produces scented green-white flowers with fluffy underlying sepals, typically 2cm (¾in) across, in July and August.
The fruits have long silvery grey, feathery extensions, which stay on the plant till well into the winter. The name Old Man's Beard comes of course from the fact that these downy fluffy silky balls cover the plant for a period.
Ecologically this plant is extremely beneficial for wildlife. Birds such as the Goldfinch and Greenfinch feed on the seed-heads but many more birds may use it to nest in using the fluffy material for seed bedding, as do small mammals.
Small emerald and chalk carpet moths may feed on the foliage. Clematis vitalba provides food for moths, hoverflies and bees.
Sowing: Sow October to February or March to September
Sowing October to February:
Sow the seeds in John Innes seed compost, covering them with a thin layer of compost. After watering place the seed container outside against a North wall or in a cold frame, making sure they are protected against mice, and leave them there until the spring. The compost should be kept moist but not wet at all times, and if the seed containers are out in the open then some shelter has to be given against excessive rain.
In the spring bring the seed containers into the greenhouse or indoors on to a well lit but not sunny windowsill and keep the compost moist. The change in temperatures should trigger germination.
Sowing March to September:
Sow in John Innes seed compost, or something similar, place each container in a polythene bag and put into the refrigerator (not the freezer compartment) for 2 to 3 weeks.
After this time place the containers outside in a cold frame or plunge them up to the rims in a shady part of the garden border and cover with glass or clear plastic.
Germination is irregular, from 30 to 270 days. As each seed germinates transplant it almost immediately into its own pot. Grow on under glass in loam-based potting compost in full light with shade from hot sun. Water freely when in growth and keep just moist in winter.
Plant out mid-autumn to early-spring and try to provide shade to the base of the plant.
To help Clematis establish well, dig the hole deep enough to bury 15cm (6in) of stem below the surface. Doing this will also help to reduce any risk of Clematis wilt. However, if Clematis wilt does occur, cut back to the healthy wood close to soil level. If, after doing this, wilt recurs then the plant will need to be dug up and destroyed.
You may need to water your plants on a daily basis during the hottest summer months. During the winter the roots should be kept moist, but as growth will be much slower you will probably only need to water once a week, depending on growing temperature.
Pruning hard in February to a foot above ground level. When established, and without care, this clematis, over time, can overtake other garden plants, shading them from sun.
Fences or trellis work or scrambling up trees and shrubs or Wall-side Borders
This Clematis is not only lovely and fragrant, but its leaves also make a yellow dye for wool yarn.
Clematis vitalba is native to parts of Europe from Holland to the Caucasus, including southern Britain. The plant is native to much of West-Europe and is naturalised in Scandinavia, Ireland and Scotland. In Britain it is native south of the Humber and South Wales. It can be found in woodland margins, scrub and thicket and hedgerows on calcareous soils. It is a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.
Clematis is a Latinised version of the Greek klēmatis which itself comes from klēma meaning ‘shoot’ or ‘twig’ and, thus, a plant which produces many shoots, that is, a climbing plant.
The true definition of vitalba appear to be lost in time, but the common name ‘Old Man’s Beard’ is said to come from the trailing white achenes produced by the plant so it may be that ‘vitalba’ is simply a conjunction of ‘vita’, ‘life’ or ‘mode of life’ and ‘alba’, ‘white’ - and so, ‘white vine’.
It was John Gerard, the 16th century herbalist, who named this plant 'Traveller's Joy'. The plant is toxic and it causes blisters so mendicants of yore would apply it to their skin before begging in order to encourage sympathy and help.
It is also known as Old Man's Beard, referring to the silvery, downy seed heads.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 20 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Clematis Species vitalba Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Common Name Old Mans Beard, Traveller's Joy.
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Common Names Virgins Bower, Wild Clematis Other Language Names IR - Gabhrán Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Scented green-white flowers Natural Flower Time July to August Height 10m (30ft) in 5 to 10 years Spread 1m (3ft) Position Full Sun or Partial Shade. Soil Well drained, fertile soil Notes Vine / Climber