Clematis fusca coreana or Clematis flabellata?Isn't it interesting how some of our clematis plants also have a story? Usually about how we acquired them, or the new friend we met that also grows the plant, or how they were thought to be lost only to reappear. Walking guests about the garden, the plants with a story are usually the ones that get pointed out and stories offered. It is nice when the plant with a story is also an unusual one, and C. fusca var. coreana is both interesting and of course there is a story. From the beginning in 2013, when I was gifted with C. fusca var. coreana it has been intertwined with friends. Traveling with my most expert plant friend, Dr. Peter Zale, meeting Tom Mitchell and also Nick Macer of Pan-Global Plants was a wonderful experience. When we visited Tom's soon-to-open Evolution Plants see Note 1 in Bradford-on-Avon in the UK, and received plants of C. fusca var. coreana, it was a peak experience that I will always remember. At that point, all I knew about the plant was what I had seen in a photo Peter had taken months earlier when visiting Crug Farm. The incredible dark, hairy bell shaped, fusca-like flower made my heart stand still. To think that I would now be able to grow the plant put me over the moon. We washed the plants in Tom's luxe facility and made arrangements for them to travel to the USA while we also washed down excellent red wine. A night to remember. In due course, the plants made it to Peter and I and were potted up to grow on in our respective greenhouses. My plants grew well but did not flower and one was eventually planted outside. Once in the garden, the plant flowered. The very dark, hairy bells, with a pale green reverse were the most interesting thing that had ever flowered for me at that time. Fast-forward and the other plant was also now in the garden, but the first plant was lost after two winters outside. While they were fierce winters, I suspect less than perfect drainage may have been part of the demise of that plant. The second plant must have liked the woodland site where it was planted better, or maybe it just adjusted faster as it was much larger when planted out. The length of time it was flowering, as well as the number of flowers was amazing compared to what I had seen thus far from the other plant. There were at least a dozen flowers and buds at any one time in the blooming period, far exceeding my expectations. In 2016, the plant continued to work it's magic as it brought me a new friend. The esteemed Mike Brown of Clematis Corner having recently obtained the plant contacted me and asked about my experience with it, as another friend had told him that I was growing it. I think he was glad to hear that it was growing vigorously and productively for me, and he brought up information about the plant that had not come to my attention previously. In the course of email discussions on the plant, I think it is safe to say that Mike and I forged a new friendship and I definitely learned a lot from him.
To start with, I learned that in 2012 the name was changed, by the World Database of Species, from C. fusca var. coreana to C. flabellata. Based on the photos I have seen from Mike, the current plants on the market seem to have some diversity in the leaf shape, with some being more heart shaped with a wavy margin and others more rounded and smooth margin. Both forms have healthy green leaves with conspicuous nervation from the base. The more rounded leaves are apt to be deeply lobed, some with two lobes and some with three. Referencing Magnus Johnson's entry on C. fusca var. coreana see Note 2 as a checklist against my plants, I find them slightly smaller than the 80 cm potential height, and the plants have completely died back by the first hard frost with next year's stems already showing just below the soil level. I have observed that the lower leaves can be larger than the stated 10 cm length and width. The boxy form of the largest leaves is very distinctive. My further observation is that the leaflets are intermediate between apiculate and elliptic, giving the plant a charming habit. I am extraordinarily fond of clematis plans with short peduncles. The 3.5 cm peduncle length is part of the unusual look of the plant. In my garden I find that it blooms much earlier in North America than the stated June – July, and not always solitary. This year flower buds were forming by late April, and flowers followed for at least two months. One of the characteristics I have observed, and I can find no reference to, is the large leaves providing cover for the lower flowers, at time making some of them hard to see easily without pulling the leaf back to expose the flower. I am not overly fond of plants that you have to get down low to appreciate, so the height and morphology of the plant would make it wonderful to grow in large display containers or a raised bed. A pollinator for the flowers would possibly be very specific as the some of the flowers may not be dramatically visible. I have found the plant does self-pollinate, producing viable seed. The seeds thus far have germinated see Note 3 in a timely manner, producing a radicle within a few months. However, the span of time then to produce vegetative growth was longer than with other fusca seeds, and much slower than other Clematis. After potting, the seedlings have grown very slowly. If some of my current seedlings do grow on to be viable plants I will grow them in containers. Mike has also mentioned there is reference to the plants being tuberous. While at this time I will not risk digging the plant up to check that, I do plan to upend seedlings at regular intervals to check the root system. Regardless of whether you call it C. fusca var. coreana or C. flabellata, if you have the opportunity to get one of these specimens and want to collect a very different clematis plant, I recommend it highly.
C. fusca var. coreana flower and a pair of buds
showing the short peduncle length
C. fusca var. coreana showing both sides of a leaf
Note 1 Sadly, Evolution Plants is now closed and Tom Mitchell is a plant hunter at large with many following his travels and collections. Note 2 Johnson's description, page 591, is based on plants raised by seeds collected by the Nordic Arboretum Expedition to South Korea in 1976, Seorak-san, H37. Note 3 The author peels her seeds and then uses the blotter paper and germination box method, which provide viewing opportunity at the various stages of the growth.
C. fusca coreana flower - cut away
C. fusca coreana seedhead