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: They are the seedheads of the native virgin’s bower clematis, Clematis virginiana .
The invasive sweet autumn clematis, Clematis terniflora, has similar white flowers but is a common garden invader.
Virgin’s bower doesn’t spread quite so prolifically as sweet autumn clematis.
Lyndy Broder, a nationally known clematis expert in Stockbridge, sent me this note.
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.
“When leaves are compared, note the smooth edge to the C. terniflora leaf and the uneven toothed leaf of C. virginiana.”