Clematises are heterogeneous group of plants in range from subtle alpine plants or herbs to vigorous creepers. They belong to Ranunculaceae family due to their flowers, which have large number of stamens and pistils. Some botanists consider petals as corolla others as non-typical colored calyx, mostly there are four of them but sometimes six or more.
Most of the species are monoecious and self-pollinating, but New Zealand species are generally dioecious. Fruit is achene with long fine hair developed from style and it serves for wind distribution. Rarely some species have only short neb to attach seeds to animal fur.
Clematis aphylla is monoecious New Zealand species with reduced foliage. Green stems took assimilative functions.
All Clematises contain poisonous glycosides (ranunkuline, protoanemonine), saponines and other physiologically active substances causing burning flavor (Czech name for clematis points at this fact). But cases of poisonings are rare, because of the flavor. Even animals avoid them when grazing. It can cause diarrhea and it also have diuretic affects. Itching or bad-healing dermatitis can occur if sap touched skin. Poisonous substances evaporate while cooking or drying.
Solitary Clematis (Clematis integrifolia) is endangered native herbaceous species in Czech Rep. and it is sometimes grown as a garden perennial.
There are more climbing than herbaceous species of clematis. Thanks to distinctive color flowers, clematis becomes a very popular garden plant. First records of growing are from 16th century, but they were European species of low variability. A real impulse for breeding came in 18th century when two American clematises were introduced: Clematis crispa called Swamp Leather Flower, Blue Jasmine or Marsh Clematis and C. viorna with common names like Leather Flower or Vasevine. Hybrids were of low height, campanulate flowers and resembling mostly to herbaceous species.
Grandiflora garden clematises have their origins in Clematis lanuginosa, C. florida a C. patens, probably in 17th century Japan. These species have been brought here, grown and first color mutations hybridized.
First European imports of grandiflora clematises were by Dutch named von Siebold in 1837, later other imports followed, like collections of Robert Fortune in 1863. Introduced plants represented sufficient gene-pool potential for grandifloras as we know then today. The very first garden clematis with big flowers (cultivar called Reginae) was bred by Isaac Anderson-Henry from Edinburg in 1855. Ornamental clematises spread continually through out the Europe until we consider them traditional rural plants today. There are several hundreds of cultivars.
Botanical clematises have had their uses in folk medicine. E.g. C. ligusticifolia known as Western White Clematis, Virgin's Bower or yerba de chiva have been used for migraines in small doses. Even though it is poisonous it’s been used also as hot spices. Other species with flexible and elastic stems of lianas found their use as rope substitution.
In Chotobuz Botanic Garden we prepare a whole new display of clematises. The grandifloras will be planted along fence where also a new bed with Japanese irises is located. Exposition have been put together with company Parkon s.r.o. which is the biggest company dealing with garden climbers in the Czech Republic. If you' re interested in clematises, especially modern cultivars, don’t forget to visit their Clematis show in July.