T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Clematis vitalba (Old Man's Beard)

Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Ranunculales
Family: Ranunculaceae
Genus: Clematis
Species: C. vitalba
Binomial name: Clematis vitalba
Common name: Old Mans Beard, Travellers Joy.

Clematis vitalba was brought to New Zealand as a garden plant used to cover trellis or latticework. The vine quickly escaped from gardens and has spread rapidly in the last 25 years. Large infestations pose a serious threat to New Zealand's native bush. Old man's beard, a vigorous fast growing, deciduous climber plant that is capable of smothering large areas of native forest remnants denying them the light they need for growth and even breaking branches with the sheer weight of the vines. Seedlings have one to three leaflets and the mature plant has five leaves. 
The flower appears in summer and early autumn, is creamy white in colour and is perfumed. The characteristic feathery seed heads give this climber its name and appear from autumn to spring. The vines have six strong longitudinal ribs. Older stems have pale brown stringy bark with longitudinal furrows. Each stem can produce up to ten metres of new growth in a season, and stems trailing along the ground can root at each stem node to produce new plants. Each plant can produce more than 100,000 seeds in a year, mainly spread by wind and water.  
It is important that old man's beard is not confused with native clematis. New Zealand native species of Clematis have smooth stems and can easily be differentiated from C. vitalba by touch. The natives flowers in spring.

Native trees smothered by Clematis vitalba on the  Moawhango Valley Road, east Taihape, New Zealand


Shrub covered with Clematis vitalba  on the eastern side of the Takaka hill, South Island. Click photos to enlarge
  


The flowers (Febuary),






New seed heads forming




The distinctive seed heads of Clematis vitalba






The top side of a leaf of Clematis vitalba.  

The leaves can have a grooved margins.


The underside of a leaf.

Young clematis vitalba (Old Man's Beard) seedling\

Cross section of Clematis vitalba stem
 

Stem of Clematis vitalba vine. New Zealand native species of Clematis have smooth stems