Clematis vitalba [KLEM-uh-tiss, vy-TAL-buh] is a climbing vine from the family Ranunculaceae (buttercup), featuring branched and grooved stems, bright green leaves, and fragrant flowers with feathery and fluffy sepals underneath.
The plant is a native species to a wide range of areas across Europe, from England to the Netherlands, North Africa, Spain, the Caucasus, and the Middle East.
It is also widely cultivated outside its native range and is found as far north of the United Kingdom as the southern highlands of Scotland.
Due to its fast growth rate, climbing nature, hardiness, and self-seeding properties, Clematis vitalba has also become naturalized and is an invasive plant in many areas, including North America, Australia, and New Zealand and is often found along roadsides or fencelines.
Besides its scientific name, it is generally known with the common names of Old Man’s Beard and Traveler’s Joy.
It is also sometimes referred to as Virgin’s Bower and evergreen clematis.
Clematis Vitalba Care
Size & Growth
Old man’s beard is a fast-growing, deciduous, woody, and climbing perennial shrub known for its flowers, unique achenes, and long life.
The plant can live as long as up to 40 years, or even more in some areas.
The stems of traveler’s joy plant are very thin, with just a diameter of 6” to 8” inches, but can grow very high; over 30’ feet with a maximum yearly growth of 9’ to 10’ feet.
The stems are dark purple to green colored, deeply ridged, and covered with silky white tiny hair near the apex, when young, but turn grey and stringy with thick nodes upon maturity.
The grooves on mature stems are deep and can easily be felt while handling the plant.
The leaves are green and broad.
Flowering and Fragrance
C. vitalba produces greenish-white flowers in abundance during the summer, from July to September, arranged on the upper leaf axils.
As mentioned above, the flowers are fragrant and have fluffy sepals underneath.
Each inflorescence contains several fruits with long silky and feathery appendages, which last till the winter season.
When seen from a distance, these silky silvery grey feathery extensions give the appearance of old man’s beard hence, the common name.
Light & Temperature
This flowering plant species grows best in warm climates and in full sun, but also grows well in partial shade.
Clematis vitalba L is hardy to USDA zones 4 to 8.
Watering and Feeding
C. vitalba prefers moist soil and hence, appreciates frequent watering.
However, it is hardy and somewhat drought-tolerant too.
Therefore, watering less is better than over-watering because the plant doesn’t like wet soil.
Soil & Transplanting
Traveler’s joy prefers rich and slightly alkaline soils, but can tolerate almost all soil types; from light sandy to heavy clay.
For best results, grow the plant in well-draining moist non-acid soil.
Grooming and Maintenance
While old man’s beard doesn’t require much care for growing, it needs to be pruned regularly to prevent it from overtaking other garden plants.
The plant, in particular, responds well to late winter pruning – cut back the plant to just a foot above the ground in February to encourage new growth in spring.
How to Propagate Old Man’s Beard
Old man’s beard is propagated by seeds.
- Collect the seed heads when they ripen, from October to January, and sow them lightly in seed compost.
- Apply a thin layer of compost on the top and water well.
- Now place the container outside in a cold frame or against a north wall.
- Make sure to keep the compost moist, but not wet.
- Transfer the container to a greenhouse or bring it indoors in the spring.
- This change of temperature help trigger germination.
The seeds can take anywhere between 30 to 270 days to germinate.
Transplant the seedlings immediately to separate pots and grow under the glass, preferably in a loamy potting compost and under bright, but indirect sunlight, until they are considerably grown.
Transplant outdoor from mid-fall to early spring.
Old Man’s Beard Pest or Diseases
For infestations, the larvae of several moth species feed on old man’s beard and for many of them, the plant is the sole food source.
These include Haworth’s pug, small waved umber, and small emerald.
Traveler’s joy is hermaphrodite and is pollinated by flies, bees, insects, and birds.
All parts of this invasive species are known to be toxic to humans.
The plant is listed in the global invasive species plants database.
Clematis Vitalba Uses
With beautiful white flowers and silver-white appendages which emerge from the fruits give the traveler’s joy a beautiful and attractive appearance during the bloom time.
Hence, it is widely found growing in parks and gardens for ornamental purposes.
In addition to the landscape uses, the plant was also used for several other purposes in the past.
According to historical evidence, the stems of the plant were used to make ropes in Switzerland, during the Stone Age.
In Slovenia, they were also used for binding crops and weaving baskets.