Fall is here and after hiding inside in the cool comfort of our air conditioning through the hottest, driest, buggiest time of the year, our interest in revisiting the outdoors is renewed. Reemerging from self-imposed exile into the garden, it is pure joy and a relief to witness the tenacity of late season bloomers that have had to bear, with no assistance or relief, the dog days of summer. One such plant, reliable and prolific, is Clematis virginiana, better known as Devil’s Darning Needle.
Devil’s Darning Needle – also called Devil’s Hair, Love Vine and Woodbine – is a North American native vine. It is very similar in habit and appearance to the Japanese native, Sweet Autumn Clematis (C. terniflora) that most of us are familiar with, yet Devil’s Darning Needle is not as aggressive and can be better controlled in the landscape. C. virginiana is a vigorous, twining, deciduous vine, growing about 15 feet in a season. This plant is in best form when planted next to a supporting structure such as an arbor, trellis, fence, tree or shrub. Its quick growth rate makes this an excellent choice where quick privacy is needed, such as along a fence, shielding a patio or forming a wall around a deck. If unsupported, it will sprawl along the ground.
What makes this plant so alluring is its annual, overwhelming display of 1 and 1/4 inch, highly fragrant, star-shaped, pure white blossoms produced in billowy masses in the fall followed by ornamental, silvery, plume-like seed heads. Both flowers and seed heads work well in floral arrangements. Either in the yard or in a vase, this prolific bloomer will not disappoint.
Devil’s Darning Needle is easy to grow. As a low-maintenance vine, it is rarely troubled by pests or disease. It performs well in moist to wet soil of average fertility and prefers full sun to part shade, although it will thrive and bloom in considerable shade. Supplemental watering may be necessary during times of drought. In late winter or early spring, prune C. virginiana back hard to about one foot from the ground to encourage spring growth, but be certain to leave at least two strong buds on each stem. During the growing season, monitor the vine if it is growing through a shrub to make certain that the shrub is not being overwhelmed. No special care is needed to trim it back to control size, but it can be pruned for shape if desired.
Devil’s Darning Needle can be an amazing addition to your landscape, and its late summer and early fall beauty is sure to delight just when other plants begin to fade.