Clematis Tangutica

Clematis Tangutica, A Plant of Several Names

The Clematis tangutica is perhaps best known as the Golden clematis, but also goes by the names Old Man's Beard, Virgin's Bower, Russian Virgin's Bower, and Golden Tiara. And that's just the English language names.



A native to China, Clematis tangutica has become a gardener's and landscaper's favorite, both in North America and in Europe. It is a vigorous grower, normally attaining a height of 15 to 20 feet, with a 6 to 10 foot spread. It blooms in the late summer or early fall, with a profusion of intense golden bell-shaped blossoms, each containing crimson filaments on the inside of the bloom. Even the fluffy seed heads are quite attractive, when observed en mass no doubt contributing to the name of "Old Man's Beard".

Like most members of the clematis family, Clematis tangutica is a perennial. If pruned back each fall to a height of from 6 to 10 inches, so that each stem retains a pair of strong buds, the plant will almost always guarantee a repeat performance the following year. Note that not all clematis plants are pruned identically. Some are pruned to the ground at the end of each growing season, others pruned sparingly, if at all. Clematis tangutica falls in between. Pruning takes but one snip, if you grasp all the stems and hold them together in a bundle. Raking a little general purpose fertilizer into the soil after pruning will benefit the plant, as well a mulch of well rotted manure or leaf mold.

When the plants starts to grow, either after first being planted, or in the spring for established plants, the vines need to be attached to a support with twine or some other material when the plant gets to be about 2 feet high. Additional fastening by one means or another, but never with a wire, will be required about every additional 3 feet as the plant grows, unless it trains itself to grow along lattice work or a trellis. You simply need to observe it from time to time and see if additional fastening locations are needed. Clematis plants have a tendency at times for the stems to intertwine, and they begin to fall over from their own weight.

Clematis tangutica likes full sun, but will also do very well in partial shade. There's a saying about clematis: "Keep the top warm, and the feet cool".  This simply means that the foliage likes the warm sunlight, but the roots do not, and must be kept out of the direct sun. It's a good idea then to protect the roots with a layer of mulch. Even several light, flat rocks around the base of the plant will do the trick. Plant in a fertile, well drained soil, and water regularly. Clematis generally are not water hogs, but are not particularly drought tolerant either, and may be set back if you go too long without watering, especially in the hotter days of summer.

Clematis are generally not too bothered by pests and diseases, at least no more so than most other flower garden plants. On occasion, clematis wilt will strike, normally affecting one or more of the stems, but often only a single stem. The leaves will turn black. If this happens, simply prune the stem back to near ground level. In a short time healthy new shoots should sprout. Stem rot is also a fairly common problem, which can happen with over watering, or simply be the result of a period of excessive moisture. Again, pruning the affected stem back to ground level is the only solution. Unless the entire plant has been affected, new healthy shoots should emerge. Most varieties of clematis are fairly tough plants. A few varieties are sensitive, others you can't kill with a heavy shovel. As far as the Clematis tangutica is concerned, its deadliest enemy appears to be vagrant herbicide mist or spray, to which it can be extremely sensitive. So be careful where you spray, especially if there is even the lightest of breezes. Your Clematis tangutica will thank you for it.