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Book cover - Common Weeds of New ZealandAn Illustrated Guide to
Common Weeds
of New Zealand


Clematis vitalba
old man's beard


Reproduced from
Common Weeds of New Zealand
by Ian Popay, Paul Champion & Trevor James
ISBN 0 473 09760 5
by kind permission of the
New Zealand Plant Protection Society

Publication or other use of images or descriptive text on these pages is unauthorised unless written permission is obtained from the authors and publisher.
Appropriate acknowledgement of the publication Common Weeds of New Zealand must always be given.

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Clematis vitalba - old man's beard

Tall, clambering, deciduous, woody perennial climber, growing 20 m or more tall on trees. Attractive, creamy-white flowers in summer, followed by seeds with long, fluffy hairs. The leaves, failing in autumn and regrowing in spring, are in opposite pairs, and each is divided into usually five widely-spaced leaflets.

  • Flowers Creamy-white, 2-3 cm in diameter, fragrant. The four or five, sharply bent back, petal-like sepals are softly-hairy. The numerous, cream-coloured stamens are conspicuous. The flowers are in loosely branched, flat- or convex-topped inflorescences in the leaf axils. Flowers Dec-May.
  • Fruit Grey, hairy, white-plumed seeds (achenes) 2-2.5 mm long, in dense fluffy clusters persisting through winter, giving rise to the common name. Seeds spread by wind.
  • Leaves The leaves, falling in autumn, are thin, papery, softly-hairy, bluntly-toothed, growing in opposite pairs. Each leaf is divided into five heart- to lance-shaped leaflets.
  • Stems Very long, woody, six-angled, strongly-ribbed, with light-coloured bark that easily rubs off. Stems root wherever they touch ground to make new plants. New growth is green-mauve.
  • Roots Fibrous.


Second-growth forest, forest margins, hedges and trees.


Widespread and common throughout NI, and in SI except for Westland and Fiordland. Also found on Stewart and Chatham Islands. Originally from Europe and south-western Asia.


Has become a very serious problem in some areas in bush remnants and reserves. Has the ability to smother and eventually bring down large trees. The species has spread widely since the 1940s. Control is difficult and labour-intensive. Biological control is being attempted, but its effectiveness cannot yet be evaluated. Listed on the National Pest Plant Accord (see Introduction for details). The occasional death of cattle from eating this plant has been recorded in England.

Related species

Clematis flammula is another adventive deciduous clematis, but with thicker, bipinnate leaves and white flowers, in hedgerows and scrub in northern NI, Nelson and Canterbury. The native clematis species are all evergreen with three leaflets (except for the leafless Clematis afoliata).

Derivation of botanical name

Clematis Gr. name for a climbing plant; vitalba (Lat.) = white vine.


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Web-notes: Weed Links

On this site

Reproduced from Common Weeds of New Zealand:

External Links

WeedbustersWeedbusters New Zealand
Weedbusters is a weeds awareness and education programme that aims to protect New Zealand's environment from the increasing weed problem.
A free tool to assist farmers and agricultural professionals in decision-making regarding weed and pest identification, biology, impact and management.
Weed keyNew Zealand Weeds Key
An interactive identification key to the weeds of New Zealand. Developed at Landcare Research.

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network naturalised plants
Search for information on more than 2500 naturalised and weedy plants.
NZ Plant Protection SocietyNew Zealand Plant Protection Society
Their main objective: "To pool and exchange information on the biology of weeds, invertebrate and vertebrate pests, pathogens and beneficial organisms and methods for modifying their effects."
Massey UniversityMassey University Weeds Database
A site providing information about New Zealand weeds and weed control. It has a series of pages showing pictures of New Zealand weeds, notes on identification and control. It also provides information on a university paper entitled Controlling Weeds.

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Last updated: March 1, 2021