History of clematis

History of clematis cultivation

It would be great to write that people have been growing clematis since ancient times, but this is not true. Or rather, it may be so, but we know nothing about it. The first written mention of clematis (specifically Clematis vinifera or Clematis vitalba) dates back to 1548: it is mentioned by W. Turner in the text «The name of medicinal plants».

The clematis was probably introduced into culture in 1569, when Clematis viticella was brought to England from Spain and began to be cultivated in gardens as a medicinal plant. From there it spread to other European countries. In 1573 the English brought Clematis integrifolia from Hungary, and in 1590 – Clematis evergreen (Clematis cirrhosa) from somewhere in Southern Europe. All of them were successfully introduced into England.

All of them have been successfully introduced into England.

Clematis viticella
Clematis viticella

Japan has always been a source of ornamental plants for Europe, such as hydrangeas. Botanical Japan was discovered for us by Carl Thunberg (it was in his honor that Thunberg’s barberry was named) and the botanist F. Siebold (after whom many things were also named). They also made their mark in the introduction of clematis: In 1776, Thunberg brought Clematis florida to Europe, which was already cultivated in Japan as an ornamental plant. In 1936, F. Siebold introduced cultivated large-flowered forms of Clematis patens and Clematis lanuginosa to Europe.

In the 18th century, European naturalists began to travel even more, and so the nomenclature of ornamental plants began to increase very rapidly. At this time, the alpine clematis (Atragene alpina), the stinging clematis (Clematis flammula), the oriental clematis (Clematis orientalis) and several others were introduced. English and Dutch botanists were mainly involved in the introduction and achieved a lot of success in it.

Many species were also brought from America. So in 1726 in Europe for the first time was seen Clematis crispa, in 1760 – Clematis viorna, in 1767 – Clematis virginiana, in 1797 – Clematis verticillaris.

Clematis virginiana (devil's hair, love vine)
Clematis virginiana (devil’s hair, love vine)

In the 19th century, naturalists climbed into places that had never been reached before and brought back many interesting things. It was at this time that they introduced:

  • from the Himalayan mountains – Clematis montana;
  • from the Far East – clematis tangutica (Clematis tangutica);
  • from Hong Kong – Clematis meyeniana (1820), Clematis heracleifolia (1837) and its variety Clematis herscleifolia var. Davidiana (1864);
  • from China – Clematis aetusipholia Clematis davidiana;
  • from Korea – Atragene koreana (1897);
  • from Japan, Clematis stans (1860) and Clematis apiifolia (1869);
  • from Dzungaria – Clematis songarica (1839);
  • from New Zealand – Clematis indivisa.

It was then, in the 19th century, that purposeful selection of clematis began. Gardeners and scientists created several ornamental forms, which are still used today.

  • Clematis viticella atrorubens with purple flowers;
  • Clematis viticella nana – dwarf plant;
  • Clematis viticella rubra grandiflora – large-flowering plant with purple flowers;
  • Clematis viticella purpurea plena with double purple flowers;
  • Clematis viticella albiflora with white flowers.

Some ornamental forms of Clematis lanuginosa had been established in Japan by then:

  • Clematis lanuginosa pallida with light blue petals;
  • Clematis lanuginosa longipetala with long sepals.

Of the American species, Clematis ligusticifolia and Clematis gouglasii were introduced in the 19th century.

Clematis introduction in the United States

From the first decades of the 19th century, the United States became a major center of breeding. It was there that many popular varieties of apple trees appeared, where the bunting was created, and where American scientists made great progress in the selection of ornamental plants. This includes clematis.

In the early 19th century, American gardeners introduced Clematis virginiana, brought and successfully introduced Clematis vitalba and Clematis violet (Clematis viticella), and later brought from Europe and large-flowered Japanese forms. In 1838 in Boston the public saw Clematis florida for the first time, and in 1841 Clematis patens was introduced there. Clematis florida sieboldii was shown in Philadelphia in 1840. A decade later Clematis lanuginosa and Clematis lanuginosa var. Pallida were introduced to the public in Boston. In 1866, Parkman exhibited the Jackmanii variety of clematis.

Parkman exhibited the Jackmanii variety of Clematis lanuginosa.

In the 1880s and early 1890s, clematis were one of the most fashionable ornamental plants in the States. They were grown and sold by almost every nursery. Their representatives bought and imported into the United States everything they could find. For example, in 1877, the Arnoldi Arboretum imported from Russia a Clematis terniflora (Clematis terniflora), which was sold under the name Clematis paniculata. They also brought Asian clematis, both cultivated and wild.

Clematis texensis
Clematis texensis

American flower growers also used mast species, in particular the curly clematis (Clematis crispa) and the Texas clematis (Clematis texensis) common in the southeastern United States. By the way, the latter was first introduced in Europe and then reintroduced to the USA as an ornamental plant.

20th century

At the beginning of the 20th century, China was almost the only “donor” of new species. Of the approximately 300 clematis species, about 108 are found in China. In addition, a large area with many inaccessible areas is simply difficult to explore. So by the beginning of the 20th century there was still plenty to take from there.

In 1900 Clematis armandii, Clematis chinensis and Clematis quinquefoliolata were found in China. In 1904 Clematis renderiana was found there, in 1906 – Clematis ranunculoides, in 1908 – Clematis veitchiana and Clematis povoliniana, in 1909 – Clematis spooneri, in 1910 – Clematis macropetala, in 1912 – Clematis napaulensis, and further on with clematis there was a trouble. People who were absolutely far from floriculture organized first the First and then the Second World Wars, in the furnace of which disappeared not only beautiful collections, but also many collectors. In 1918 Clematis serratifolia was found in Korea, and then things got very bad.

About the author

Fedor Fironov
Graduate of Plant Protection Faculty at GSAU. Main area of interest – clematis, peonies and perennials of Lamiaceae .

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