Invasive Plant Spotlight: Sweet Autumn Clematis

If you’ve been noticing masses of showy white flowers rambling over vegetation along the roadsides, it might be Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora). Also known as Sweet Autumn Virginsbower, this non-native invasive species was originally introduced as an ornamental but has since escaped cultivation. It is reported to be invasive in at least 10 states, including South Carolina. You’ll often find it invading forest edges, rights-of-way, and the edges of disturbed areas.

Clematis terniflora blanketing roadside vegetation on Spring Street in Darlington, SC.

Clematis (terniflora) blanketing roadside vegetation on Spring Street in Darlington, SC.
Terasa M. Lott, Clemson Extension

It may be hard to resist, but you should not be tempted to add this plant to your landscape. It is a vigorous grower that will blanket other vegetation, reducing sunlight penetration. The many seeds produced are dispersed by the wind, meaning new plants can pop up all over the place, changing the composition of the local plant communities.

If Sweet Autumn Clematis is already residing on your property and you’d like to remove it, please refer to the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.

The good news is there is a native species with nearly identical flowers. You can distinguish the two species using the margins (edges) of the leaflets. The leaflets of the non-native Clematis terniflora have smooth margins, while the leaflets of the native Clematis virginiana have toothed margins.

Smooth margins = Clematis terniflora (non-native invasive)

Smooth margins = Clematis (terniflora) (non-native invasive).
Terasa M. Lott, Clemson Extension

Toothed margins = Clematis virginiana (native)

Toothed margins = Clematis (virginiana) (native).
Wendy VanDyk Evans,

For more information on Clematis species suitable for South Carolina, see HGIC 1104, Clematis.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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