Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Clematis Seed Heads


Some people love them, some people hate them.  After the clematis blooms fade, they are replaced by the often strange looking Seed Heads.  They can look very different depending on the variety of clematis.

Should I cut them off?  Well, that depends on whether you like how they look or not.  Some of them can be quite pretty and interesting (in the opinion of the Red House, anyways), whereas many of them can look quite alien or spidery, which may not be a look you are going for.  If you want your clematis to bloom more, you should cut them off.  This is especially important after the first flush of spring blooming clematis (pruning group 2) if you want any rebloom that year.  It takes energy from the plant to make the seed heads, so if you don't care for them, cut them off and redirect that energy!

Spidery-looking seed heads of clematis jackmanii
Each seed head has several seeds in it.  Each seed is composed of a seed pod (also called the achene) with a long tail attached.

When the seed head first emerges, the tails are smooth and shiny.

Unripe seed head of clematis rooguchi
These seeds are not ripe yet.  As you can see in the picture above, the seed pods are still green.
As the seeds ripen, the tails become feathery.  The feathery tails help the wind disperse the seeds when ripe.

Seed head of clematis Guernsey Cream
You can tell the seeds are ripe when the seed pods are completely brown as in the picture below.  The seed head will come apart very easily.

Ripe seed head of clematis Rooguchi
If the seed head has not been fertilized, the tails will still become fluffy.  However they will be much shorter, and seed pods will not have developed.

Can I plant the ripe clematis seeds?  Absolutely.  Plant them in sterile seed starting soil, thinly covered, and keep moist. Here are a couple links that have more detailed information about planting clematis seeds:
Clematis International Society
Brian Collingwood (a clematis fan who tells about his home trials in growing clematis from seed)
There are two disclaimers that comes with planting clematis seeds, however:
(1) The resulting plants will usually have different flowers than it's parent, especially when it comes to those beautiful large flowering hybrid plants.
(2) You might have to have a lot of patience.  Some seeds can take up to 3 years to germinate!  And then it can take another couple of years for the plant to flower.   So you might want to do a little research into your particular clematis to see how easy it is to propagate from seed.
(Propagating by cuttings and layering is starting to look mighty good, huh?)

Happy gardening!


  1. I love Clematis and those are some very interesting photos. Visiting from Blotanical.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Great images and good information. Thanks!

  3. You should see the amazing fully intact Wild Clematis seed pod I just found in my garden. It looks like someone whittled a gorgeous wooden flower. Later I will see if I can post a photo because it is definitely photo worthy. Thank you for your sight.

  4. I’m on my second clematis. Second one is doing great. First flush was just about 40 blooms this year. Last year was first year. Was a lot less activity. Beautiful blooms, already 6’ high already.


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