Most gardeners are familiar with the cultivated non-native clematis vines with their large, showy purple, pink and white flowers, but did you know that there are several native American clematis vines suitable for your beautiful wildlife garden? In New England, the most common native clematis is virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana) which grows on streambanks and the edges of moist fields:
In my central MA garden, virgin’s bower (also known as woodbine) flowers in August, a little earlier than the similar-looking Asian Sweet Autumn clematis which unfortunately, is making an appearance on invasive plant lists in warmer areas of the US.
Like most vines, woodbine is an aggressive grower, quickly covering a fence, arbor or trellis within a season, and it may heavily reseed in nearby gardens, even in cold climate gardens. If space is an issue in your garden, situate this plant where you can easily control its world domination tendencies through pruning and weeding. Or let it sprawl into a natural-looking songbird hedge, providing stopover food and shelter for migratory birds passing through in the fall. Many species of birds will pick at the seeds right into winter, and if you’re lucky, you may catch late-nesting American gold finches picking at the downy seed coverings to use as a soft material for lining their nest:
The dense tangle of summer foliage also makes wild clematis a popular nesting location for house finches, chipping and song sparrows, indigo buntings and many other eastern birds. In late summer and fall, shimmering hairs of of silver and gold cover the top of the plant:
Do you have a “Cousin Itt” wild clematis growing in your wildlife garden? Share your experiences with us…
Ellen Sousa is a garden coach and writer from Spencer, MA, where she maintains a small horse farm as NWF Certified Backyard Habitat #71074. Her book The New England Natural Habitat Garden will be published by Bunker Hill Press in 2011. Visit her habitat farm website and blog at THBFarm.com
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