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Is That Cotton Growing in My Trees?

With the cotton harvest coming to an end, it’s not unusual to see cotton littered on the sides of the road.  You may also think you see it hanging in the trees, but you will be pleasantly surprised to find a hidden gem.  Woodbine (Clematis virginiana) and coastal virgin’s bower (Clematis catesbyana) are two native species of clematis that can be found wrapped around trees in the Panhandle.  They have finished flowering for the year and you will notice their showy seed lint hanging in the trees.

Clematis growing in an oak tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, UF/IFAS

Clematis growing in an oak tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, UF/IFAS

Clematis leaves are compound, consisting of 3 to 5 leaflets, dark green and glossy with toothed edges.  The vines are typically 1/2 inch in diameter and can grow to 20 feet.  The flowers are much smaller than those of cultivated varieties found at garden centers. Flowers are white with prominent stamens.  Clematis catesbyana and Clematis virginiana have similar flowers, but the flowers of C. virginiana are fragrant.

Clematis species grow well in partial shade to full shade.  Native plants are often found entwined in the forest understory near streams or ponds where soil conditions are moist.  Garden varieties grow well with their roots in moist, shaded soil and their leaves and flowers in the sun.  They are often seen growing on a trellis or on a fence.

Clematis 'General Sikorski'. Photo Credit: Karen Russ, Clemson University

Clematis ‘General Sikorski’. Photo Credit: Karen Russ, Clemson University

It is important to note that some species of clematis are invasive.  Sweet autumn clematis or Japanese clematis (Clematis terniflora) is a vigorous invasive species that was once popular in southern gardens.  This species has similar characteristics to C. catesbyana and C. virginiana, but its leaflets have smooth edges.  You should develop a control strategy if Japanese clematis is found in your garden.  For control options, please visit EDIS – Japanese Clematis.


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