This time last year (October 2018) I was in New Zealand South Island with my husband, Ken, driving around and seeing Clematis paniculata, a native New Zealand species clematis, flowering almost everywhere I looked, though more often than not it was high up and in the distance, a bit frustrating!
I was amazed at the diversity of places that C. paniculata grew and how it survived so well in such different environments. We saw it growing in the Native Plants Section at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and alongside State Highway 75 on the Akaroa Peninsula. We drove west from Christchurch and climbed up through Arthur's Pass where we noticed several C. paniculata plants growing by the side of the road. As we travelled down the west coast from Hokitika on State Highway 6 we saw them every now and again. We would come around a bend in the road and I would see flowers hanging down, though usually well above head height. We only found a few places where the flowers were sufficiently low down that we could stop to take close-up photos.
C. paniculata hanging down from a tree
C. paniculata growing over a bush
At Lake Moeraki, we had a guided walk to a beach to see penguins but we also saw some C. paniculata growing right on the edge of the rainforest on the beach where it would be buffeted by the wind and salt spray. Again, it was flowering right at the top of the trees. A few days later we had a boat trip on Doubtful Sound in the south west Fiords region and with binoculars we could see C. paniculata dotted around the cliff walls.
C. paniculata at top of tree with beach in foreground
Closer view of C. paniculata at top of tree by beach
Later on in our trip we stopped near Staveley, a 1½ hour drive west from Christchurch, and found several C. paniculata plants. Whilst the plants were either above head height or not accessible enough to get close to, we were able to admire some lovely flowers, almost like garlands in the trees, at about 3 meters high. We returned the next day and we managed to find a plant with some flowers in the sun! C. paniculata flowers are white and about 5-9 cms (2 to 3.5 inches) across with 6 to 8 sepals. The sepals are generally oval but vary in size and shape, some are slender while others are broader and overlap. C. paniculata has the largest flowers of all the New Zealand species. New Zealand species clematis plants are dioecious plants, so plants are either male or female and have either male or female flowers. All the photos here show male flowers with a central boss of white/yellow or purple stamens. The female flowers usually flower later than the male flowers so we must have been too early to see them in flower. The New Zealand species are generally referred to as 'evergreen' as they don't lose their leaves over winter. The dark green leaves are most unusual being thicker than more usual garden clematis and leathery in texture. C. paniculata plants are rarely seen in the UK, where I live and, given they grow so tall, probably wouldn't be suitable for many gardens or locations as they prefer a sheltered spot preferably next to a warm wall. There are some shorter growing hybrids of C. paniculata available to purchase in the UK during March/April, for example Clematis × cartmanii 'Joe' and Clematis × cartmanii 'Avalanche'. While we saw C. paniculata in flower in October in New Zealand, in the UK, being in the Northern Hemisphere, the hybrids flower in the garden in April/May. In the past I have found that I have not managed to keep them for more than a few years either in the ground or pots. However, they make a good and unusual display for several years. This text contains extracts of an article of mine that was published in the Journal of the Society, Clematis International 2019, reproduced with permission of the Editor.
C. paniculata garland
C. paniculata close-up