Watch Out For This Sweet Autumn Menace

September 17, 2015 | By | Comments (9)
Sweet Autumn Clematis

Photo: Steve Bender

It’s pretty. It blooms at a time when few vines do. And you can smell its sweet, vanilla fragrance from yards away. But if you plant it, be forewarned. You’ll soon have it pretty much everywhere.

Meet sweet autumn clematis. Its common name makes perfect sense, as its sweet, inch-wide blossoms perfume the air by the thousands in late summer and fall. Alas, its botanical name makes no sense. What I grew up knowing as Clematis paniculata was changed about a decade ago to Clematis dioscoreifolia, a name whose only purpose seemed to be to eliminate contestants in spelling bees. When somebody finally spelled it correctly, it quickly changed to the ridiculously unpronounceable Clematis maximowicziana. Now the botanical name is Clematis terniflora. I tell you this because you will find it sold under all four names. Isn’t gardening fun?

Anyway, this rampant, deciduous vine, suited to USDA Zones 5-9, comes to us from Japan. It likes America and therefore grows 15-20 feet a year. Its pliable stems don’t crush fences and strangle trees like a wisteria will, but left unchecked will engulf a fence or arbor in a single year. It also spreads all over the place via these guys below.

Sweet Autumn Clematis


After the flowers drop, fluffy seed clusters form that are quite ornamental. Unfortunately, the purpose of the fluff is for the seeds to catch the breeze and fly hither and yon to make more sweet autumn clematis. They do this with extreme enthusiasm.

All sweet autumn clematis needs to grow is sun and well-drained soil. Once it drops its leaves in fall, it looks like a tangled mess. I suggest you cut it to near the ground and let it grow back the following year. It blooms on new growth, so this won’t affect flowering.

Nobody plants sweet autumn clematis twice. Plant it the first time and it will always be with you.




  1. Laura Hamilton

    I really love mine!

    July 13, 2016 at 6:45 pm
  2. Traci Guinee

    Timely article. I was going to ask you if I can still plant my regular clematis outside, or is it too late in the year and it won’t have a chance to establish and will die. It is a hardy little sucker and has survived the entire summer in the sunroom in a too-small pot. Central Arkansas, zone 7. Thank you!!!

    September 23, 2015 at 3:53 pm
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    September 22, 2015 at 6:40 am
  4. Martina G. Creger

    Butterflies and bees don’t seem to care about the vines that are devouring my deck, climbing the side of the house and showing up as mini-vines all over my yard. I have some small birds that appear to be living in it so there is that. I am afraid to admit (but I will) that I have planted it twice on two different decks, 2 different houses, same results You can whack it down each year and it happily and robustly rebounds.

    September 18, 2015 at 9:17 pm
  5. Ninette W Burns

    Why doesn’t mine have a scent? It would be bearable if it did smell nice!

    September 17, 2015 at 4:28 pm
  6. Kathleen

    A lot of those creeping, invasive things seem to originate in Japan. Beetles, multiflora rose, kudzu, etc.

    September 17, 2015 at 4:00 pm
  7. Beka

    But do butterflies bees or hummingbirds like it? That’s what decides things for me nowadays.

    September 17, 2015 at 11:30 am
  8. Julie Thompson-Adolf (@garden_delights)

    I’ll admit to planting it once…and boy, you’re not kidding. I’ve found vines in the big kitchen garden, the forest, by the river, the front garden, climbing the viburnum…it spreads everywhere. I still do kind of love it, though–except when I see it taking over in the wild. (Shame on me.)

    September 17, 2015 at 11:11 am
  9. rusthawk

    Loved the post! So true, so true …

    September 17, 2015 at 10:08 am

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