Thursday, April 15, 2021

Fairy Hats - Clematis crispa

Flower Close-up

Fairy hats (Clematis crispa) is perhaps more commonly referred to as swamp leather flower, but I find that name to be far too mundane for such a wonderful wildflower. I prefer to use the name coined by my granddaughter many years ago. This is a perennial vining plant that is common throughout much of the northern two-thirds of Florida in moist to seasonally wet habitats. It dies back to the ground each winter and reestablishes itself by spring. This species is a twiner, without tendrils, and it twines itself throughout the adjacent vegetation for many feet in all directions once it's established.

Fairy hats has glabrous compound leaves composed of three leaflets. They branch off the main stem opposite from each other and are noticeably veined. The stems are often reddish and become semi-woody over time.  Flowering occurs over many months from early summer to late fall. They are pale lavender in color. The edges of the reflexed petals are edged in white. As my granddaughter sees it, this makes them look like tiny hats - the kind a fairy might wear and I can't argue. These blooms are especially attractive to bumblebees and they buzz pollinate them while going in for the nectar.

Although this is a wetland species, fairy hats has done well also in my typical landscape settings. It does not withstand being completely dried out, but is is relatively drought tolerant once established. It clambers throughout the vegetation in this setting and the flowers are not always easily admired. I have most of my plants in a pot next to a foundation hedge. Here, I can make sure they get extra water and the flowers rise to the top of the hedge where I (and the bumblebees) can see them.

This species is not frequently available from native plant nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries so it may take some sleuthing to find it. I have been propagating here at Hawthorn Hill, however, for many years from seed collected from my plants. The seed of all native Clematis can take several months to germinate. Soaking it first and removing the outer seed coat speeds this up by several weeks.


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