Clematis Vitalba

Growing Clematis Vitalba: Old Man’s Beard

Clematis vitalba, also known as Old Man’s Beard or Traveler’s Joy, is a flowering vine of the Ranunculaceae family. This shrub hails from parts of Europe, northern Africa, and southwest Asia, although it can be grown in many areas around the world. This vine is known as a “climber” because it spreads upwards on walls and other plants but also grows outwards. This plant does require quite a bit of control because it grows a little TOO well and can quickly snuff out plants in the surrounding area. The clematis vitalba can also be difficult to get rid of, both of which are reasons that many states have listed this plant as a noxious or invasive weed. So, if you decide to plant it in your own garden, be sure that it is a plant which you will not be tired of.

Old man’s beard has medium-sized green leaves in groups or clusters of five leaflets. The flowers are soft white and start-shaped. They are adorned with wispy accents which bear a striking resemblance to…an old man’s beard! The “fruit” inside these flowers is food for moth larvae, which means that having this plant around could attract moths to the area.


In the United States, this plant grows well in California, Oregon, Washington, Maryland, and Maine. It can also be found growing in British Columbia and Ontario in Canada. In northern areas, such as Washington, the clematis vitalba is known to grow as high as a hundred feet in the trees. Also, because of the moisture there, this plant’s main woody stalks swell to the size of nearly two inches in diameter, which is quite large for a shrub! If you happen to live in a mild climate with frequent rain, then you may want to reconsider having this plant around—that is unless you are able to frequently cut back the vines. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible as this shrub grows so quickly!

Planting Old Man’s Beard

If you’ve decided that you simply must have this pretty, but eager shrub, then you’ll have to acquire either a seed or a cutting from an existing mature plant. If you are planting the seed, it is best to start it out indoors about six weeks before the last frost. You can do this using a seed tray or a four-inch pot. Plant the seed about a quarter of an inch into the soil and cover it lightly. Give the soil a bit of water and place the pot or tray near a sunny window or under a sun lamp. If you have started the seed in a tray, you will have to transfer it to a four inch pot about two weeks after plating the seed. After the threat of frost has gone, you can move your plant outdoors to its permanent location. Transplanting can be a bit difficult on many plants, but luckily old man’s beard is quite hardy and handles transplanting well.

Dig a hole in the ground that is twice the size of the roots of your seedling. The soil can be mixed with a little compost or fertilizer. Once the hole has been dug, immediately place the roots into the ground until the top of the roots is nearly level with the ground. Fill in the soil-compost mixture around the roots and pat around the stalk of the plant. If you want to provide a little extra protection for the roots, try surrounding the area with a little mulch. Because this shrub is a climber, you may want to encourage its growth upwards by erecting a trellis or a bit of fence material. When your plant gets large enough, try wrapping a few of the branches around the support device in the direction you want it to grow.

It cannot be stressed enough just how invasive this plant can be. If you cannot maintain this plant properly by cutting back the limbs, then you may want to consider plangent the clematis ligusticifolia, which is nearly identical to the clematis vitalba but not nearly as invasive.