Collecting Clematis Seed

C. 'Sonnette'

Three clematis in my garden tempted me to collect seed this fall:   a sweet pink bell (Clematis Sonnette), a light blue little nonclimbing clematis (integrifolia type) from the Rogerson Clematis Collection (Clematis Skylark), and a species clematis (C. viorna) with small urn-shaped flowers in lavender and white (C. viorna). 

C. integrifolia ‘Skylark’

Growing clematis from seed tickles the imagination.  The anticipation is great, waiting first for the seed to sprout and then for it finally to bloom.  What color will the flower be?  What shape?  Will it be fragrant or have great seed heads?  You just never know til you see it.  Even the most careful of hybridizers can be surprised by the result of a carefully planned cross between two different clematis.  

C. viorna

I am a novice at starting clematis from seed.  My first foray into the process came into being when the British Clematis Society sent me seed in 2011 as a reward for joining .  Those first seedlings are growing well, but none have bloomed yet.  Since then I have also started seeds received from friends, the Rogerson Clematis Collection, and the International Clematis Society, as well as seeds harvested in my own garden.   One caveat about growing clematis from seed:  it can be a long process — not for the impatient.  Some seeds can take as much as three years to sprout; others as little as six months.

Seedheads from C. integrifolia ‘Skylark’

Today’s subject is about the first step in seed starting — collecting seed.   To be viable, clematis seeds need to be brown (not green) and should look as though they may drop any minute.  In the photo on the right, the seedhead in the middle is still too green and its feathery tails are not fluffy enough to harvest yet.  But take a look at the seedhead to the left and below it — seeds are brown with fluffy feathers and ready to be picked.  Some clematis have very long feathery tails like those in the photo (from C. ‘Skylark’) and others have much shorter tails that don’t fluff up so much.   Seeds can be large like C. viorna (below) — about 1/4 – 1/2 inch wide.  Others are smaller, but still visible.  If you don’t see any seeds in the fluff, there probably aren’t any.  Go out into your garden with a container or a baggie and check your clematis for viable seeds.  If you find seed, pull the whole seed head off with your fingers and drop it into a container.  Be sure to have a separate container for each plant from which you harvest.

Back indoors, dump the seeds, tails and all, on a plate or paper towel.  What a treasure trove of possibilities!  I take the time to pull the feathery tail off each seed.  This step allows me to get a better idea of just how many seeds I have, but is not required for successful germination.  

To the left are the C. viorna seeds prior to cleaning (removing the tails).  The purpose of these feathery tails is to help the clematis drift in the air and land, perhaps, a bit far from its mother.  But they are certainly not needed when planting seed in pots.  Below is the same set of seeds, minus their tails. 

Since recent Seattle weather has been wet, I will allow the seeds to really dry out on a paper towel on top of the refrigerator for a few days. 

C. viorna seeds after removing tails.

When I feel sure the seeds are dry, I will pour them into glycene or paper seed bags and place the bags in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and put it  in the fridge.  I also put one or two of the dehydration packets from old vitamin bottles inside to help keep the seeds dry.  Some clematis seed require a cold time prior to germination, so I just put them all in cold storage for a few months.  In spring I will plant them in seed starter mix and leave them outside to their own devices.  This process works well for me so far. 

But if you have a greenhouse or an inside seed starting area with enough light and warmth, you could pot some of your seed up and wait and watch all winter to see that first little tiny bright green leaf that will lighten your heart and bring a big smile to your face.  If you decide to start yours now, here is a link to a great website that goes into the nitty gritty of starting clematis from seed:  http://www.bcollingwood.com/index1.htm .  Otherwise, like me, wait til spring, when I will show you how I start my seeds.

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