September 30, 2022
Sweet autumn clematis isn’t called “sweet” for nothing but…

By Mary Reid Barrow

A blanket of little fragrant flowers suddenly appears in all the wrong places in September, covering green shrubbery in white icing.

Or, in my case, it covers the blueberry bushes in, shall I say, whipped cream?

It’s sweet autumn clematis and it didn’t get its name “sweet” for nothing.

I want to love it because the flowers are so dainty and sweet looking as well as sweetly scented.  The fluffy seed heads are a pleasure to look at too. Even the vines themselves are nice as far as vines go. The leaves are roundish, a pretty, shiny medium green. The vines have no thorns, grasping tendrils nor hold-fast discs.

If only, there were not so many of them!

It seems as if these late bloomers appear out of nowhere in September, but all along those vines are innocently growing willy-nilly, blending unobtrusively among the blueberries and other shrubbery branches.

Then BAM! They bubble over  on top of the bushes in full bloom and you and the whole neighborhood finds sweet autumn clematis everywhere.

A native of Japan, Clematis terniflora is, oh, so at home here. The Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora ( says it grows in disturbed habitats, sunny or shady, across most of Virginia.

There is a similar native, Clematis virginiana, often call virgin’s bower. The Digital Atlas lists Virginia Beach as the only location in the state where it has not been seen. The leaves are about the only difference in the two species.  They are darker green, slightly serrated and more pointed than rounded.

When I learned about virgin’s bower, I was excited thinking it might be more controllable than the non-native.  But no!!  From what I’ve read it’s a rampant grower too. Both spread by seed and root suckers. And so far, I haven’t found out where to purchase virgin’s bower either.

Looks like whatever the species, it’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t if you want all the sweetness of sweet autumn clematis and none of its unladylike behavior!

Reach Mary Reid at


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