Clematis paniculata (Puawhananga)
Species: C. paniculata
Binominal name: Clematis paniculata
Synonyms: Clematis integrifolia Clematis integrifolia, Clematis indivisa.
Common name: Puawhananga ('flower of the skies'), White clematis, New Zealand clematis. Bridal Veil, Piki-kai-arero
Clematis paniculata is endemic to the North, South and Stewart Islands and is now naturalised on Chatham Islands. It is common in lowland and low mountain slopes on the edge of forest fragments (up to 1000 m a.s.l.).
Clematis paniculata is a woody vine that will grow from the base of a tree to have a long, bare trunk (200 mm diameter at base) with the foliage and flowers in the canopy, up to 12m above the ground. Like many other New Zealand plants it has distinct juvenile and adult stages. In the wild it is mostly found growing in forests, spreading into tree tops where it produces masses of pure white male flowers (5-10cm) in spring. These are larger than the female flowers which are produced on separate plants. Fluffy seed-heads are produced in late summer/autumn on the female plants.
Most plants sold by garden centres are male, as the male flowers are usually larger and are showier.
C. paniculata shiny dark green leaves are three foliate and the broadly ovate leaflets are 5-10cm long and 3-5cm wide with margins that are entire or with a few rounded teeth towards the tip. The leaves of seedlings and juveniles are much narrower. The leaflet stalks twine around trunks, branches and twigs taking it high into tree canopies.
Clematis paniculata was traditionally a harbinger of spring to Maori, for whom it was also connected with the harvest of eels, a spring event. The Maori made garlands from the flowers.
Andrew Crowe in his book (Which native forest plant) described a beautiful Maori legend for these “stars of the forest”. To some tribes whauwhaupaku (the five finger tree) and puawananga were the offspring of Puanga (Rigel, the bright star of Orion) and Rehua (Antares, the bright star of Scorpion). Their rising as morning stars signals the approach of summer, the period between these two events (June to November) coinciding with the flowering, first of whauwhaupaku (Pseudopanax arboreus and then puawananga (Clematis paniculata).
Photographed at Te Kainga Marire Garden, New Plymouth
Plant with male flowers
New male flower.
The white male flowers
The fluffy seed heads of a female plant high in the tree tops.
Photographed North Egmont Road, Mt Egmont/Taranaki.
A developing seed head.
A close up of the distinctive seed heads of Clematis paniculata. Only on female plant.
The leaves vary in shape as seen in photos below.
Underside of a leaf