The only Wildflower he can grow on his face!

The dog is getting a bit cheeky.

Christmas is a very busy time of year for me. It is the only time of year when having long white hair and a beard can actually lead to gainful employment. ย I have been so busy polishing my Reindeer’s hooves (and keeping them off the Fly Agaric) that I haven’t had time to write a proper post.

What would you like for Christmas, little fellow?

A puppy? Oh I think that we could manage that….

FizzWhat do you mean, “You want a cute one?” Get out’a here!

FizzOh shut up! You wouldn’t give me away.


So anyway this is the best that I could manage today. It is a rehash of something that I posted elsewhere.

Clematis vitalba, The Wild Clematis

Wild Clematis on Hawthorn (Clematis vitalba)(Wild Clematis on Hawthorn)

Clematis vitalba also known as Old Man’s Beard or Traveller’s Joy.

Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)I see Old Man’s Beard in the winter.

Wild Clematis flowers (Clematis vitalba)Traveller’s Joy in the summer.

Other less common namesย relate to it’s use as a tobacco substitute, for example, Smoke Wood or Boy’s Bacca. The woody stems contain large vessels which allow air to pass through them and it was once the habit to break off pieces of the stem and smoke it like a cigar.

Clematis vitalba is a member of the Buttercup family and the only member of that family to have woody stems.

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)Native to the UK and most common in the south , it is a climbing vine or Liana. It’s roots are in the soil and it climbs toward the light by curling the stems of it’s leaflets around trees and shrubs.

Old Man’s Beard is a familiar sight in theย winter scrambling through and topping the hedgerows.

Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)ย Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)

Wild Clematis seed heads (Clematis vitalba)The leaves are made up of three to five leaflets on a central stem and these leaflets are spaced apart with two opposite pairs and one at the end. It is usually five, three leaflets are only common on young plants.

The ability of these leaflets to curl around anything they find in their way is central to the success of the plant. An unsupported vine can only grow toward the light for about one metre before it drops and grows along the ground.

Wild Clematis leaves (Clematis vitalba)

Wild Clematis leaves (Clematis vitalba)In the UK the flowers open in the second half of July.

Wild Clematis vine (Clematis vitalba)The flowers don’t have petals. They have four sepals which open to reveal numerous stamens and styles. The flower is hermaphrodite.

Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba)ย Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis flowers and buds (Clematis vitalba)The late summer flowers often coincide with the ripening fruits of the plant that they are climbing, as in these next pictures of the vine growing through Elder.

Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba)ย Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba) Wild Clematis in Elder (Clematis vitalba)As the Elder berries are ripening so is the Clematis. The sepals and stamens are discarded and the green seeds form at the base of the styles.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)The styles start to elongate and become feathery. They will remain attached to the seed and serve to distribute the seed on the wind.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)The host plant in these next pictures is Hawthorn. I just mention this in case anyone thinks that Wild Clematis has berries of any kind. Of course it doesn’t, the seeds that we are looking at are its fruit.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)The ย seeds change from green to brown as they ย ripen.

Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)ย Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)ย  ย Wild Clematis seed heads forming (Clematis vitalba)ย In September the summer flowers start to turn into the Old Man’s Beard that will hang on the vines all winter, often lasting well into April or even May.

The seeds provide a valuable source of food for birds throughout the winter.

This vine is very important to our wildlife. Apart from the seeds provided for the birds the flowers are a rich source of nectar for visiting insects and the leaves provide the larval food for several native moths. In fact there are several species that are completely dependent on Clematis vitalba as their sole larval food plant, these include the Small Emerald Moth, The Small Waved Umber and Haworth’s Pug.

Wild Clematis on Hawthorn (Clematis vitalba)Native to the UK and much of Southern and Western Europe these vines play a vital role in our ecology. They fit well into our crowded hedgerows and they do not outgrow themselves. Elsewhere in the world they are much less welcome.

It is particularly unwelcome in New Zealand where it is considered an “unwanted organism” and a “national pest.” A milder climate and a lack of natural control agents means that Wild Clematis grows much more vigorously over there. The flowers only open in full sun and the habit of the vine is to grow to the top of the tree before flowering. The leaves smother whatever it is growing through and deprive the host plants of sunlight.

Even here it can cause problems. The vines can grow as thick as your wrist and more.

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)They can hang from a tree in great numbers and mass. Their sheer weight and wind resistance can be enough to break branches or even topple a tree.

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)However they do also provide the only real opportunity in the UK to play Tarzan and swing through the jungle and for that they should be valued. (you can swing on them but just like Tarzan, you may hurt your bum if they break)

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)I have heard it said that the stems make a good natural tinder for starting a fire but in my experience I think that it absorbs moisture very easily and in winter it is always wet and useless. It needs to be dry, perhaps in summer. (The feathery seeds dry quickly and are like cotton wool for taking a spark but they don’t last long)

Wild Clematis stems (Clematis vitalba)


Kingdom: Plantae

Order:ย Ranunculales

Family:ย Ranunculaceae

Genus:ย Clematis

Species:ย Clematis vitalba

Wild Clematis (Clematis vitalba)Wildflowers in winter.

That last picture was taken yesterday and is exactly how things are here in the UK in December ๐Ÿ™‚

51 thoughts on “The only Wildflower he can grow on his face!”

  1. As Clematis climbs which way does it go? Looking from above, is it clockwise or anticlockwise? And is it opposite in the Southern Hemisphere? This is not a quiz, Fizz. It is a genuine request for information.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John ๐Ÿ™‚ That is a very good question and at this point in time I have to say that I don’t know. I was going to say that it doesn’t climb like that. Honeysuckle, for example, is a clockwise climber and always twists in the same direction but with this Clematis the vines don’t entwine but obviously the leaflets do. I haven’t looked and I don’t know where I could find that information. I will investigate and get back to you. This is something that we must know.


    1. Thank you Emily ๐Ÿ™‚ There is so much stuff out there, nobody knows all of the names but it is always nice to be able to put a name to something. It makes me feel closer to the species when I know a little about it. Glad we were able to help.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Maureen ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes but… Yes but…. I didn’t take it to NZ, it was one of your lot that brought it over and you have only yourselves to blame. It is not even the best garden plant, what on earth were you thinking? ๐Ÿ™‚ Okay I think that I read somewhere that it was brought to NZ to use as a rootstock to graft fancy Clematis to. The problem really is gardeners, they get everywhere ๐Ÿ™‚


    1. Interesting stuff John ๐Ÿ™‚ I think that we need to be clear on how we determine the direction. My walking stick has Honeysuckle growing up it so… I hold my stick from the bottom and following the direction of the upward growth I turn my stick, my stick is turning clockwise. If I was to look down from the top of the vine then my stick turns anti-clockwise as I follow the vine up but that is not the way that the plant grew. Which way are you looking?


      1. This is easier to understand.

        This is my clockwise Honeysuckle (sorry Fizz)
        and pinching a picture from the link that you sent me. This is that lady’s counter clockwise Morning Glory.
        counter clockwise
        I will try and find out which way the Clematis grows but most of the leaves have gone now. There may not be much evidence ๐Ÿ™‚


      2. After extensive research and a field trip I have come to the conclusion that the herb is degenerate, it does not follow the ways of the clock.

        Clematis vitalba leaf stalk

        Clematis vitalba leaf stalk

        Now I remember reading somewhere that Darwin experimented with this plant and found that by repeatedly stroking one side of the stem for half an hour he could make it turn back on itself. That wouldn’t have told me which way that it climbed but it does suggest that the trigger to turn may be contact rather than some genetic programme to turn clockwise or otherwise.


  2. Beautiful photographs! I especially like the one you took yesterday and the one of the seeds shining in the sun (just before you speak of the leaves and leaflets). I see plenty of Old Man’s Beard when I’m driving my car but none on my walks, unfortunately.


    1. Thank you Clare ๐Ÿ™‚ I really wasn’t going to take that last photograph and then the sun came out and lit up the scene and it had to be done. The days are so dark and short now but I think that we are at a turning point ๐Ÿ™‚


  3. I looked this up in Flora Britannica and it is also known as Woodbine, Capstan Full Strength and Strand. Superb work, Colin. You need to collate these into a book. I hear Fizz Publishing is on the look out for new work.


    1. Thank you Andrew ๐Ÿ™‚ There is a book, these are the pages of Easy Wildflowers but it is just the bones of a book at the moment. I do want to create something that is more than a blog, something that is one day useful but it takes time ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. At a quick glance, the fluff in the bottom photo almost looks like snow. We have “clematis” in Canada but it is very different looking and definitely not invasive. The blooms are hard-won for gardeners in my patch of the planet.


    1. Thank you Susanne ๐Ÿ™‚ There are a lot of different Clematis varieties. I don’t think my one would do very well in Canada, it would be in it’s winter clothes all year round.


  5. We have it here as well and it sure is invasive and you need to tend it in areas where it will take over. Locally we call it Pappy’s Whiskers. The smell of the flowers makes it worth letting some grow in the edge of the yard or somewhere out of the way like that. Lovely pictures today, as always.


    1. Thanks Sarasin ๐Ÿ™‚ Non-native certainly but I am surprised that you have problems with it in Pennsylvania. It seems to be on the edge of it’s Northern border here and to prefer warmer climes. I had PA down as being quite a bit colder than here, especially looking at your winter posts from last year. (brrrrr…..) I agree with you about the scent, some people say that it is unscented or very faint but I think that depends on how fresh the flowers are, they lose the scent as they age.


      1. Our winters do get very (too) cold here Colin, but yet it thrives and takes over areas if allowed to. I purposely allow it to grow on a guy wire attached to a utility pole on the side of my yard, just to get to smell those flowers for a short time. Some other places where it has sprung up, I guess by seed, I have to fight it.


  6. From what I have observed from our garden variety clematis here, it would seem that they are driven by contact. But my curiosity was always in how they were able to *sense* the closest item to grasp and reach for it. I tried an experiment to fool them but they seemed to “know” the shortest path to contact. It is interesting that others are curious about which way the twine twirls! In any case, lovely photos of beards ๐Ÿ˜‰ And Fizz, well she is bizzy as usual ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Stephanie ๐Ÿ™‚ If as Darwin observed plants are sensitive to contact then maybe we should open our minds to the idea that they can feel things. If they have feelings then might they also have emotions? I am going to express my love, just in case. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for the beautiful photos. We had what we call Pappy’s Whiskers growing up one support outside our carport. We enjoyed the sweet aroma. It did require some maintenance, but it was worth the effort.
    I hope you and sweet Fizz have peaceful holidays..
    Incidentally, I live in PA also and it is a lovely place to reside.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you Colin. Christmas was great and today is a quiet New Year’s day. Hopefully yours was the same. May 2015 be a kinder one than the year we just closed.


    1. Colin, somehow I have lost contact with you! I miss daily reads,. I was in thru Google, added my email address several days and no email response. I was reading about garlic and the lovely flowers, the buzzard and dear Fizz’s photos. Miss you both.


      1. Dear Ettel, I have been worrying about you for a few days now and this morning I started looking back over my posts for your last comment. First off I am glad that you are okay ๐Ÿ™‚ Will you see this? I don’t know. If you do then if you just Google for “A Tramp in the Woods” Then you should find me. My blog email is Do not worry, I am coming to look for you. Colin (I have a tracker dog) ๐Ÿ™‚


      2. Colin…I just read your comment below..and I”m glad you have a tracker dog..I hope we are in communication again. I have recorded both addresses and checked that i want to be notified by email of new comments. Thank you for taking the time. I look forward to many great visits.


  9. A very interesting post like always, and a great start to 2015. I’ll be looking forward to many more just like this one, so have a great year and we’ll see you later.


  10. Thank you for the wealth of information. The “old man’s beard” looks so pretty, such a pity it is an invasive some places. I am in NW of US and we have some invasive plants brought by early English settlers. Scotch Broom and English Hawthorn are a constant battle on our acreage. Apparently the early settlers thought they could not live without these dear plants!


  11. My mother-in-law and I pronounce Clematis differently, and now she’s got me doing the emphasis on the first syllable rather than the second (CLEM-atis vs. cleMATis). How do you say it? Well, I guess it doesn’t matter much but was curious. Love the photos, especially this time of year when it’s nice to be reminded of ongoing life in nature and the wilderness. Cheers, – Bill


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