Clematis Vine

Western white clematis along the South Fork grows fast and can completely cover smaller trees and shrubs. It is easy to see during the fall when leaves are gone and the seedheads are prominent.

We have been camped at Twin Bridges near Ririe for the past week enjoying the last days before the snow falls. As we walked around the campground, it has been easy to see one of our common native plants, clematis. This vine grows well in riparian corridors such as the South Fork of the Snake River where it has plenty of trees to climb.

I have seen both types of native clematis on the South Fork and surrounding area. One is called blue clematis and the other, Western white clematis. They are also known as white virginsbower and western blue virginsbower.

The color, of course, refers to the flower. Neither species’ flower has petals, but both sport four showy sepals. Blue clematis flowers are much larger and showier than Western white clematis flowers and both species bloom from late spring to August.

When I see the extent to which clematis vines, especially Western white clematis, can engulf a large cottonwood, the first thing to mind is, does that damage the tree? While the vine stems themselves aren’t large, there are lots of them and since they can climb 50 feet or more, they may completely cover smaller trees in a dense weave of vines.

Trees do have a troubled association with vines. Some of the larger vines, such as the strangler fig and Oriental bittersweet, wrap tightly around the trunks of trees, almost becoming a part of them. Like a tree trunk, the vines continue to add to their girth, sometimes reaching over six inches in diameter. These are the botanical equivalent of pythons, boas and other constricting snakes, and eventually choke the tree, robbing it of nutrients and can kill even large trees.

This isn’t the case with clematis. While it is a perennial plant with woody stems, it doesn’t form the thick stems of some other vines. It also doesn’t twine around the trees but rather, grows straight up.

The sheer mass of a clematis can be a problem though. Over time, clematis vines add a lot of weight to the trees and can break branches. A full blanket of clematis also acts like a sail, catching the wind and increasing the likelihood that the tree will succumb to a storm.

Finally, with smaller trees that are completely overwhelmed by clematis, photosynthesis can be dramatically hampered, weakening the tree.

On the positive side, these dense tangled mats of clematis create excellent wildlife habitat, offering birds and small mammals protection from predators and the elements.

Clematis vines are commonplace in landscape nurseries. Tame varieties are beautiful and often command top dollar. The ones I planted in my yard never became unruly and provided a profusion of blooms. They like partial to full sun but also like to keep their feet cool, so if you plant them, be sure to mulch heavily around the base.

One great thing about native clematis is that they add what landscapers call “winter interest”, that is, something to add spark to the monochromes of winter. In the fall and early winter, the seed clusters are easy to spot. The small seeds each have a feathery style up to several inches long and together, they look like clumps of goose down and when backlit, glow with the hope of tomorrow.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho