Clematis montana var. wilsonii

Curator of Collections, Douglas Justice contributes today’s photos and write-up.

UBC Botanical Garden is renowned for its collection of woody climbers (lianas) primarily because we encourage many of them to climb into the mature conifers in the David C. Lam Asian Garden. The genus Clematis is well represented in all parts of the garden, with wild Asian species representing approximately half of the collection. See this link for a list of clematis accessions in the garden.

Clematis montana var. wilsonii commemorates E.H. (Chinese) Wilson (1876-1930), who introduced vast numbers of plants to cultivation, primarily from China and Japan. This variety from southwestern China is less well known than the more commonly cultivated selections of Clematis montana var. rubens (which are generally larger and pink). Most references describe var. wilsonii as late-flowering (mid to late June) and strongly fragrant, smelling of hot chocolate. The aroma to me is considerably more complex, especially when smelled at close range. A number of my colleagues have been debating the particular components of the aroma—what else do staff at a botanical garden do at lunch?—and we’ve come up with quite a list, including chocolate (of course), but also peppermint, cinnamon, cardamom, carob bean, narcissus (the large trumpet types), oaked Chardonnay, and Advocaat liqueur—the more elusive and volatile components being expressed more strongly with older flowers. Our plants came to us from Guernsey Clematis, the famous nursery founded by plantsman Raymond Evison.

There is considerable disagreement amongst experts regarding the legitimacy and characteristics of the various C. montana varieties; however there is no disagreement on the value of these beautiful climbers to horticulture. The species is generally hardy to Zone 6 or colder, floriferous, and needs no pruning or special treatment. Our plants have taken about 15 years to reach within a few metres of the tops of 25 m tall Thuja plicata (western red cedar). The clematis mode of climbing is well suited to thujas, whose branchlets are the optimal diameter for the twining petioles (and petiolules). Because the leaves and branches of thujas are long-lived, they’re commonly retained near the ground for many years, and this makes starting a clematis up the tree relatively easy. It is important, however, to site the clematis (or any other climber) outside of the drip-line of a western red cedar, as thujas produce very heavy shade and are notoriously greedy when it comes to available water.

Clematis montana var. wilsonii
Clematis montana var. wilsonii

14 responses to “Clematis montana var. wilsonii”

  1. Dana

    Of all the senses, I do believe scent is the most difficult to pin down and have everyone think it smells the same… Awesome photo of the texture!

  2. Sue in Bremerton

    I was somewhat startled by the foliage behind the blossoms. Seemed wrong to me. I’m so glad I looked at the second picture and read the description as well. Chocolate, eh? Hmmm.
    One of the things I enjoy this time of year is driving around older home areas where the plants and bushes are well established and in bloom. The aromas of the various flowers can be overwhelming on a still hot afternoon. How enticing they are.
    My friend raises lilys in pots on her patio, and in the hot summer, she moves the pots under her canopy, and the smell seems to stay there. It’s a lovely place to have a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day.
    Thank you so much for this post. It was wonderful.

  3. Debby

    Has a hint of baby powder too!

  4. Carolina

    Beautiful flowers, and your description of all the aromas is more than inviting. It’s really nice the way C. montana is covering the thuja, although I am almost about to feel sorry for it…! (can it get all the sunshine it needs??)
    Well, I guess it does…

  5. Annie Morgan

    One of the most interesting posts yet (though none rate lower than 4 stars out of 5!). the And we think the clematis growing by my daughter’s front door is lush when it gets 5 feet high and covered with blooms! Wait till she sees this, she’ll swoon from envy.

  6. John

    Unfortunately Clematis montana and its varieties have been repeatedly killed here in Nova Scotia Zone 6. Farther south in Zone 6b they have fared no better. From our experience they can live for up to 5 years but then get zapped (i.e. killed outright). It would be nice to find a dependable one and hear of others’ experiences.

  7. Heather Keffer

    truly astonishing to see it cover the cedar! And it is true that scent is debatable as the volatile oils change in the air and up your nose and in your brain! “Real” smells don’t seem to me overpowering but today i believed that my nose had been damaged by exposure to one of those “plug in” air “fresheners” at a house call. I literally could not smell anything for almost 60 minutes! Bring on nature!

  8. Marilyn Brown

    Is that Wisteria just below and to the right ? What a glorious collection of textures and greens. Thanks for another week of great photos plus, lively comments and commentary.

  9. Enid

    Too funny…I just planted the very same clematis by our cedar hedge, hoping it will climb up and fill in the ‘gate’ space between our 2 properties.The picture today was almost the same as the one I took the other day (the white clematis with the cedar peeking through). Thanks for the reminder that the cedars will steal the moisture from the ground and the clematis will need to be watched for signs of thirst. My plant is small, so I had to get down on my hands and knees to take a sniff. Couldn’t detect much of a scent yet, but I will keep sniffing as it stretches!
    Thanks for this site. I look forward to seeing it each day.

  10. elizabeth a airhart

    luxuriant -lush- exuberant-
    your gardens are so lovely
    fine fine sensitive photo
    thank you for shareing makes my day

  11. Eric in SF

    Stunning full-tree shot!
    Was a decision made to sacrifice the Thuja for the Clematis? It doesn’t look like the Thuja is able to get enough light!

  12. phillip

    chocolate,sweet, carob bean, sweet, narcissus, very sweet, oaked Chardonnay, and Advocaat… sweet it is….ha..!
    you kids crack me up….!

  13. Douglas Justice

    Marilyn Brwon asks if the climber below the clematis is a wisteria. No, it isn’t. Below and to the right is a female hornbeam-leaf maple, Acer carpinifolium and below that a large Rhododendron calophytum. To the right is the rare Magnolia zenii and on the chainlink fence and climbng into the thuja is the beautiful evergreen climber Holboellia angustifolia. The tree on the left is Magnolia ‘Galaxy’.

    Carolina and Eric in SF: with respect to the health of the thuja, we generally cut climbers down once they look like they’re going to compromise the host’s health. Thujas are remarkably resilient, but we’re not afraid to cut climbers down when they get out of hand. This Clematis will probably get the axe next year.

  14. sharon

    and how is this pruned in the spring? :o)

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