Plant TNT: Scarlet Leatherflower

Draw nectar-loving hummingbirds to your garden by planting some Scarlet Leatherflowers.

By Linda Beutler

Photography by Derek St. Romaine

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Scarlet LeatherflowerClematis texensis

  • Native vine
  • Continuous bloom
  • Zones 4 to 11
  • Grows 6 to 15 feet

Adding scarlet leatherflower (Clematis texensis) draws nectar-loving hummingbirds to your garden. The small (1 to 2 inches long), pendant, urn-shaped blossoms are deep coral to true red outside and red or yellow inside, and are produced prolifically from July until the first frost.

Scarlet leatherflower is a twining perennial vine that climbs 6 to 15  feet. Most clematis like sun on their foliage and their roots in the shade; scarlet leatherflower is different. This is a clematis that likes it hot: southern or southwestern exposure and at least 6 hours of full sun a day from the ground up. Good drainage is needed in clay soils (add compost at planting time). A boost of mild organic fertilizer (4-6-2 or similar) in March combined with slow-acting agricultural lime mimics its native, calciferous soil. It happily scrambles over fences or host shrubs like companionable sun-lovers rockrose (Cistus) or manzanita (Arctostaphylos). After weekly watering the first summer to get established, it becomes drought-tolerant, as the roots dive deep for moisture in low-water regions. During wet summers, exposure to afternoon sun makes this vine much less prone to powdery mildew, its most common pest.

Hard-prune scarlet leatherflower to 8 to 12 inches tall once it goes dormant in late fall or anytime during the winter. This is an herbaceous vine—new growth is produced from an underground crown each spring. The old growth will not rejuvenate, so why look at it all winter?

The flowers of C. texensis hybrids are outward-facing rather than pendant as the species. Their vibrant colors amply make up for the diminutive blossom size. Look for ‘Duchess of Albany’, a cotton-candy pink blooming best in full sun; ‘Princess Diana’, more intensely pink and forgiving of afternoon shade; ‘Sir Trevor Lawrence’, deep cherry pink and best used rambling over shrubs in the sun (think roses); and arguably the truest red of all clematis, ‘Gravetye Beauty’, which opens flat and starry. Once autumn arrives, whirly plumes of seedheads create their own softer, but no less appealing, display.
 

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