Clematis gracilifolia
C. gracilifolia©Ton Hannink

Clematis of the Month for May 2009

Section: Cheiropsis
Subsection: Montanae
Distribution: China: Eastern Tibet, western Yunnan, western Sichuan, Sikang (E. Tibet, W. Sichuan), southern and western Gansu, 2300-4300 m elevation.
Flowering: May-June
Habitat: Usually growing in thickets, among rocks or in forest slopes, sometimes in the shade.
First Recorded: A. Rehder and E.H. Wilson in Sargent ed., Plantae Wilsonianae 1:331, 1913.
First Discovered: By E.H. Wilson in Sichuan in 1908 and introduced by him in 1910 to Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain, Mass., USA

C. gracilifolia©Ton HanninkThe flowers of Clematis gracilifolia are pure white, between 50-60 mm long and flat. The flower normally has 4 tepals but can occasionally have 5. The flowers are in clusters of 2-5 together or solitaire, with several leaves from the nodes of the previous season's shoots and are slightly fragrant.

C. gracilifolia produces flowers before any of the Montanas and this makes it an interesting species, giving you a clematis with flowers very early in the spring. It is particularly good in dark places in the garden as it is a very showy clematis. The leaves are green and the form and outline of the leaves makes this species very attractive.

C. gracilifolia©Ton HanninkThe stems grow to 2-4 meters and therefore C. gracilifolia makes a very handsome plant for the smaller gardens, and much better than a montana which can be too vigorous. In addition, C. gracilifolia does not grow as bulky as a montana.

It is happy in either acid, neutral or basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (e.g. light woodland) or in no shade. In Holland it is hardy. C. gracilifolia is probably hardier than a montana, but since montanas are no problem in Holland, this is difficult to assess. Both C. gracilifolia and montanas give me lots of flowers.

C. gracilifolia can be used for a large pergola, obelisk or trellis. If you use the plant in a small tree or shrub then you must be careful that it does not overgrow the supporting plant, to the ultimate detriment and possible destruction of both. One very good combination is to grow it through a shrub that doesn't have leaves in the spring, since this will be hidden by the leaves and flowers of C. gracilifolia.

Pruning can be carried out if the plant gets too large. It should be done immediately after flowering ceases, thus ensuring that C. gracilifolia will put on as much new growth as possible during the rest of the season in order to bear flowers next year. Pruning at the end of the year means you will have no flowers in the following year!

Propagation from seed is easy, the seeds germinate within 6 months at 20 degrees Celsius. Cuttings can be taken of young wood and will root within 3 months.

I have made a crossing between a montana - C. 'Fragrant Spring' - and C. gracilifolia . The result was Clematis 'Rob Hannink', a plant with dark leaves and pale pink flowers which does not grow as large as a montana. It has the best attributes of both parents, the montana and C. gracilifolia.

Ton Hannink Ton Hannink

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