Clematis terniflora (sweet autumn clematis)

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Robert Pavlis

Clematis terniflora

Clematis terniflora, the sweet autumn clematis, is a great plant for the fall garden. It is flowering right now in a large swath that covers a mature lilac and some neighboring plants as well. It is easy to grow and flowers every year.

Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis
Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis

C. terniflora also goes by the common name sweet autumn virginsbowler. Names and pictures on the internet are frequently mixed up and can be just plain wrong. This confusion is caused by three similar clematis all of which bloom in fall with white flowers.

Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis
Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis

C. terniflora is an Asian species that has white flowers with four sepals. Clematis flowers don’t have real petals. The stamens are quite long; almost as long as the sepals, giving it a fuzzy appearance. The edge of the leaves are mostly smooth. It is the true sweet autumn clematis and has a number of synonyms including Clematis paniculata.

Clematis paniculata is actually a completely different species from New Zealand. It also has smooth edged leaves and white flowers, but they have 6 sepals. The stamens are much shorter than the sepals. It’s leaves are similar to C. terniflora. You will frequently find a plant with this name for sale, but in North America it is rarely the true plant.

Compost Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

Clematis virginiana, also called virgin’s bower, is native to North America, has white dioecious flowers with four sepals and look much like C. terniflora. They are hairy on the underside. The leaves on the other hand are quite different, with very definite serrations.

Clematis virginiana compared to Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis
Clematis virginiana compared to Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis

All of these plants make relatively small flowers when compared to most hybridized clematis and flower in the fall. Each can be identified using the above descriptions. The small size of flowers is more than compensated for by their shear number.

Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis
Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis

The plant in the picture has been in place for about 10 years. It generally flowers quite well but not as well as this year. In spring, I dramatically reduced the size of the lilac behind it and I suspect the increase in light has given the clematis extra growing and flowering power. It has so much growth that it’s bending the lilac branches over. I find this clematis grows best climbing up another shrub – the growth is too vigorous for most trellises.

Clematis terniflora, by Robert Pavlis
Clematis terniflora, showing the four sepals and long stamens, by Robert Pavlis

The one issue with sweet autumn clematis is that it is invasive in warmer climates and has naturalized in much of the Southeastern US. In my zone 5 climate, there is not enough warm weather in fall to mature seeds and I have never found a single seedling from my two plants.

Clematis terniflora

(KLEM-uh-tiss  ter-ni-FLOR-uh)

Life Cycle: woody vine

Height: 10 m (30 ft)

Bloom Time: early fall

Natural Range: northeastern Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Russia)

Habitat: sunny meadows, forest edges

Synonyms:  Clematis maximowicziana, Clematis dioscoreifolia, Clematis paniculata

Cultivation of Clematis terniflora:

Light: full sun to slight shade

Soil: variable

Water: moist to dry

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 – 9

Propagation: seed, softwood cuttings

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

7 thoughts on “Clematis terniflora (sweet autumn clematis)”

  1. I am now living in a 300 sq ft cottage… I love it. I’m trying to have plants that flower in different seasons. My Poppies are cast in the Fall/Winter. My Sunflowers are self-sowers are about 3 to 4 ft now. When the Poppy seeds pods are dry, I’ll pull those plants and transplant perennials from the main house gardens. I also have lots of pots for boxwoods & azaleas. I have window flower boxes. I have many Irises & Larkspurs. In early Fall I’ll transplant Irises from the main house gardens to Alleyway Cottage. This is the perfect life for this 84 yrs old widow/master gardener & my 24 yr old Great Dane, Dolly!!!

    Reply
  2. wow! I am so happy of what I found today, on you tube about fundamentals in gardening. I am a beginner gardener and having so much fun, so grateful of nature and it has given me so much satisfaction growing veg and flowers. I did try winter sowing and it was an awesome experienced. I am a senior that was forced to retire because of health issues, but I found gardening as my hobby now. It makes me want to get out of bed even in pain because it excites me to get moving so I can take care of my plants. Thank God for showing me how to live a little more than a quality of life. Thank you, Robert for all the wisdom that you are sharing. I live in Colorado Zone B and have a short season for some plants that I have encountered last year, but so so grateful for all the learning and education.

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  3. very helpful for the enthusiast gardner like myself who needs plants that flower at different times of year. Thank you.

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  4. Thanks so much for this.
    This grows everywhere here. (St. Louis, Missouri)
    It is so invasive, yet so pretty.
    It’s interesting to know that it is not invasive in colder zones.

    But, doesn’t it harm your lilac to have this vine crawling up
    all over it??

    Reply

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