Q: In September, while visiting a garden in north Georgia I saw an interesting vine. The flowers looked like what we called “monkey’s fist” in the Navy. Do you know what it is called?
A: I believe they are the seedheads of clematis, very likely sweet autumn clematis, Clematis terniflora. (I’M WRONG! SEE NOTE BELOW.)This vine is a common garden invader. The white flowers are lovely in early September.
Its almost-identical native cousin, Clematis virginiana, is called “virgin’s bower”. It doesn’t spread quite so prolifically.
NOTE: One of the beauties of my job is that if I make a mistake, any number of smarter gardeners can put me back on the right path. I mis-identified the clematis seed head this person sent me.
Lyndy Broder, a nationally known clematis expert in Stockbridge, sent me this note.
“You’re oh-so-close! Clematis terniflora (Sweet Autumn Clematis) has seedheads which have about 5 achenes which are orange yellow to red-brown, pear-shaped, with greyish or reddish brown plumose tails about 1.6″ long.
“Clematis virginiana has about 40 to 60 achenes, hairy with silvery plumose tails. I observe the seed head turns more golden as it ages and is about 2″ long. So the distinguishing features are 4 or 5 skimpy achenes to 40 to 60 glorious achenes. This is another reason why the native is more attractive in seed though not necessarily in number of flowers or fragrance.
“You will also note the smooth edge to the C. terniflora leaf and the uneven toothed leaf of C. virginiana.”