Clematis urophylla

Clematis of the Month for January 2023

described by Linda Beutler

C. urophylla©Linda Beutler

It is unusual to see this blush of pink at the receptacle of C. urophylla, but it can happen late in the flowering season. (Photo taken at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, Washington.)

If you live in a climate that can accommodate it, autumn and winter-flowering Clematis urophylla is another bright star to grow in the season of darkness. But don't let me mislead you, it isn't star shaped, but rather, it produces masses of tailored creamy white bells with acuminate slightly flipped sepals. It has the added advantage over its distant C. cirrhosa cousins of preferring a shaded location, for not every gardener can afford the full sun real estate the cirrhosa selections need.

The best specimen of C. urophylla I have ever seen was the consistently performing beauty in the shade garden at Joy Creek Nursery. Through the summer it was protected from hot sun, by the deciduous antique apple trees and evergreen rhododendrons scattered around the north side of the farmhouse on the site. It did have its own non-living structural support in a panel of fencing cloth, giving it many places to hang on through windy weather. (USDA zones 7 [if well sheltered] 8-9)
C. urophylla©Maurice Horn

We thank Maurice Horn for this luscious image of the happy specimen of Clematis urophylla at Joy Creek Nursery

Once at the top of a structure or companion plant (one imagines it shining through any dark-foliaged cultivar of Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum), C. urophylla will loop downward producing lengths of stem spangled with its tidy flowers. In addition to adding luster to dark foliaged broadleaf ever greens, it would be easy to place hellebores and winter-flowering cyclamen around the ground beneath it, making the most of the available winter-flowering plant palette. The earliest flowers to open on this clematis may be greenish or yellowish cream, but in the thick of the flowering season, the 3 x 3 cm flowers will be whiter. Rarely, end-of-season blossoms may show a stain of pink right at the connection point with the reddish receptacles.

At the Rogerson Clematis Garden, we have made the mistake of growing it in too open an exposure, learning the hard way that this species does not like dry, freezing winter wind or late season snow (11, April 2022). This made it clear that this species prefers to be a shady understory vine, which counts on the protection of a canopy of higher trees and shrubs. On the plus side, it comes easily from cuttings struck in the winter from non-flowering wood or in May and June from semi-hardened new growth.

The evergreen leaves are handsome, forming a deep green curtain of 8-10 cm long ovate foliage with extended points and heavy vertical veining, ideal for providing efficient run off for rainwater. The leaves are also slightly serrated and ternate (three leaflets per leaf). If growing this species on a trellis by itself, it would be wise to provide a 1.2m wide by 2.4m support. The Dutch selection 'Winter Beauty' reputedly gets larger than the versions in the United States, which are usually grown from wild collected seed from SW China.

In its native range this is a spreading, climbing understory vine. If you can provide a similar situation with plenty of leaf mould in the soil, and protection from harsh winter wind and hot afternoon summer sun, then your winters will be all the brighter for it. Clematis urophylla will certainly provide a reason for you to bundle up to venture into your winter garden.

C. urophylla©Linda Beutler C. urophylla©Linda Beutler

The filaments of C. urophylla flowers are the same creamy color as the sepals, and the anthers are more yellow

Shortly after this shivery picture of C. urophylla was taken, all of the buds rotted and fell off, spoiling the remainder of the flowering season

Linda Beutler Linda Beutler

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