I have been writing a short piece in the Grantham Canal Society newsletter each month for the last three years – I thought it would be fun to share these little snippets on here! If you would like to subscribe to the digital newsletter which drops into your inbox once a month, or look at older issues, visit their website here:
January 2020 – Wild Clematis
In the hedgerows and trees along the canal in winter time, you might be lucky enough to spot the silken seedheads of wild clematis, also known as ‘travellers joy’ or ‘old man’s beard’ The small dark seeds are clustered in the centre whilst the white fluff which surrounds them are feathery wings which allow the seeds to catch the breeze and reach a new location. Many seeds will inevitably fall in unsuitable places, but through probability and strength in numbers, some will find a suitable place to germinate and develop a new plant. Wild clematis is a liana – a long-stemmed, woody vine – alongside other familiar species such as honeysuckle and grape vines. It can persist scrambling though herbaceous vegetation, but is most at home clambering up supports such as trees and shrubs where it twines around its unfortunate host.
Wild clematis has the latin name Clematis vitalba and is actually a member of the buttercup family. At this time of year, the seedheads provide a good source of food for wild birds such as goldfinches, whilst the flowers which preceded them sustained bees, butterflies and moths. Several species of moth are completely dependent on this species as a larval food plant, including the Small Emerald, the Small Waved Umber and Haworth’s Pug.
The native clematis is related to the garden varieties which people may be more familiar with – the flowers from July to September are less exuberant than their ornamental cousins but they share the same vanilla scent.