Fine Vines

Clematis terniflora
Clematis terniflora

We have two Clematis vines climbing up opposite sites of our front porch. On the west side is Clematis terniflora, or the autumn clematis, which we put in about four years ago. Deirdre was pruning it in the autumn for the first couple of years and then last year didn’t do anything to it. This year it flowered more profusely than ever before and leaped over to the hanging basket and kept going eastward toward the middle column of the porch. It began flowering about two weeks ago and is at its height right now.

On the east side is Clematis tangutica ‘Gravetye Beauty,’ which begins flowering in July and continues through September. By late September all of the blooms are past, but the seed heads are pretty too in an entirely different way. While the flowers are yellow and hang down like paper lanterns, the seed heads are larger with wiry tendrils forming sub-globular balls. As the seed heads age they become frayed and fluffier.

C. tangutica seed heads
C. tangutica seed heads

Back in Rochester we inherited a few different Clematis species. Some were early summer bloomers, large (~3 inches across) purple or white flowers with six petals. I put up something for them to climb on and after a year of hesitation, they really took off. There was an autumn clematis on the front porch of the Rochester house that had stems that must have been two or three inches thick. It might have been there since the house was built in 1920. It was an event when it flowered each fall; it was much more strongly scented than the one we have here in Trumansburg. The smell itself was a sort of a presence; you’d smell it in the house and it would change your mood for the better.

The trickiest thing about Clematis would seem to be how and when to prune them. There are three categories of this genus that are variously referred to as Groups A, B, and C, or 1, 2 and 3, or by bloom date.

Group A includes the species and varieties that flower in April or May and should be cut back soon after they flower, not later than July. Group B includes large-flowered hybrids that often bloom once in early summer and then again in the late summer. They should be pruned in February or March back to the topmost large, plump buds.

Group C include plants that flower from mid June through the fall. Every source of information that I looked to recommended aggressively cutting them back until they are only two or three feet high. As noted above we didn’t do this and it is flowering very nicely.

Clematis (pronounced by CLEM-a-tis, by the way) are nearly all vines (there are about 250 species and new varieties being developed constantly), so you wouldn’t think they’d make the best cut flowers. Last week Deirdre cut a flower-laden branch of the C. terniflora and laid it in a shallow ornamental bowl so that all the flowers were sticking up out of the water like some many tiny lotuses. It was strikingly beautiful and lasted for about three days.

Autumn clematis
Autumn clematis

Some people will tell you that Clematis are difficult to grow, but this may be due to a lack of patience or a lack of sunlight on the part of the grower and his site. They like full sun (>6 hours a day). Soil should be rich and well drained with a pH close to neutral (7.0). As they are woody perennials, so they take a few years to get established and may not look like much while they are building a root mass.

Trellises or lattices work well as supports for these vines. They wrap themselves around narrow supports. Our Clematis are actually loosely propped up on porch railings and held against the pillars with some strategic monofilament. They don’t seem to mind. The autumn clematis seems to be growing more rapidly and becoming ligneous and self-supporting sooner than the C. tangutica.

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Wetland Flowers at Cayuta Lake

ABL - little lakes5

Cayuta Lake is a relatively small lake tucked into the hills of Schuyler County in a region that is either the top of the Southern Tier or the southern edge of the Finger Lakes. The lake covers 588 acres, is two miles long and has a maximum depth of 24 feet. The shoreline is largely privately owned, with many trailers, small cottages and campgrounds lining the eastern shore and larger cottages and houses strung along the western shore. A Department of Environmental Conservation boat launch at the north end of the lake is the only public access to the lake.

Cardinalflower
Cardinalflower

We put our kayaks in at the DEC ramp in early August and pushed out onto the warm shallow water through the emergent and submerged vegetation, the water itself green with algae and diatoms. We headed east because the rest of the north end seemed relatively undeveloped, with verdant vegetation coming right down to and into the water.

Later research revealed that the undeveloped tract is owned by Cornell University in nearby Ithaca. The James W. and Helene D. Allen Preserve was donated to the university in 1995 and is visited regularly on class field trips because of its “relatively pristine” vegetation and the ecosystem of inlet, which includes rare freshwater sponges.

Even from a distance we could see that the wetland forest was filled with wildflowers, both herbaceous and on the shrubs that formed the understory. The precise position of the shoreline was blurred by the presence of swamp loosestrife, which arched repeatedly outward from dry ground, diving in and out of the water to create a miniature temperate-zone version of a mangrove swamp. The stems were lined with purple conate flowers arranged in clumps at the base of the whorled leaves.

Behind and among the loosestrife tangle grew dogwoods of some kind. They had flowered already, but their berries had not reddened into their autumnal glory. The leaves, however, showed hints of purple to remind us that summer was fading fast.

Swamp loosestrife
Swamp loosestrife

Less common than either the dogwoods or the loosestrife were the swamp roses. These were something I had never seen before and it is perhaps a testimony to the undisturbed nature of this tract of land that they are found here. Their flowers were a pale pink that graded to white at the center where the prominent yellow anthers bobbed in the breeze. The roses were about four or five feet tall and seemed restricted to a narrow band just above the shoreline with abundant sunshine making its way under the canopy from the open expanse of the lake.

One flower that we never identified was a large yellow bloom that looked to be in the aster family, perhaps Helianthus. It was three to four feet tall and clearly herbaceous. They seemed to favor the same conditions as the swamp roses, growing among them and being about as abundant.

A really striking part of the palustrine assemblage is the buttonbush. This shrub grows with its feet in the water like the loosestrife, but it is large and woody with strikingly glossy green foliage and globular white flowers. Each bloom is actually made up of innumerable narrow blossoms radiating out from a single center. After flowering the fruit hardens into a rounded disk that gives the plant its name.

Buttonbush
Buttonbush

In addition to the terrestrial vegetation the broad shoals of the lake itself were filled with plants including emergents like pickerelweed, which sent its purple spikes at least a foot above the water’s surface, and water lilies, whose white blossoms floated on the surface, and bullhead lilies, their sub-globose waxy yellow flowers hovering a couple of inches above the water.

Beneath the surface the shallows were choked with submerged vegetation, a profusion of milfoils, pondweed and elodea. Many of the Web sites crowing about the excellence of the fishing in Cayuta Lake (we saw them jumping almost constantly), complained about the density of the “weeds” in the lake, which inhibited passage by motorboats in the summer.