Traveller's Joy

Clematis vitalba

Traveller's Joy is one of the few lianas of Central Europe. A rapidly-growing plant, Clematis vitalba can smother other trees and bushes relatively quickly by forming a canopy and shading them from light. The plant is especially conspicuous at woodland margins in autumn and winter due to its creamy white, cottony fruitheads.

Traveller's Joy is a scrambling, spreading plant which can climb to heights of over 10m and which attaches itself to other woody plants by way of its leaf stalks. Growth can survive around 25 years, while the rootstock may live up to 40 years. Strong mature growth can reach the diameter of a human arm. The greyish-brown bark peels irregularly in long strips. The leaf arrangement is opposite; leaves are pinnately compound, normally with five leaflets. Leaf length including leaf stalk can reach 25cm. The individual leaflets are 2.5 to 8cm long, 2.5 to 5cm wide and have an oval or heart-shaped form. Tops are dark green and undersides somewhat lighter. Clematis vitalba always twines around other plants in a counter-clockwise, leftwards movement. Its flowers are around 2.5cm in diameter, emit a faint scent and have long stems; lacking petals, the flowers are arranged on a terminal axillary panicle. The relatively late flowering (from July to August or September) is due to the fact that the flowers spring from the newly-formed twigs. The flowers turn into numerous small brown elongate achenes with around 3cm-long feathery clusters which can be spread by the wind. The fruit matures starting in October and is only fully ripe in winter. Timber is pale yellow and in the case of mature growth, divided up into multiple steles. The plant is poisonous and its sap can cause irritation to the skin.

Traveller's Joy is native to Central and Southern Europe. Its range extends from Ireland and Great Britain across the entire Alpine region, through Italy, the entire Balkan peninsula and all the way to Asia Minor. It may be found in all provinces of Austria. Oft-occurring in the National Park, the plant is most likely to be found at higher elevations in the wetlands, where it builds dense canopies at forest edge.

Endangerment and Conservation Status
Not vulnerable in Austria or Europe.

Ecological Characteristics
Clematis vitalba prefers alkaline soils rich in nutrients and young, chalky, clayey or loamy wetlands soils. An indicator for nitrogen and warmth, it may found on the margins and openings of forests, in wetlands as well as ruderal growth; it grows from lowland areas to elevations of around 1500m. Although Traveller's Joy is considered a partial shade plant, it requires more light in its early years; it is found in soils ranging from weakly acidic to weakly basic.

Special Characteristics
Traveller's Joy, also known as Evergreen Clematis, grows vigorously across regeneration areas and can quickly smother young growth of other plants. Uncontrolled growth can even lead to snow breakage in extreme cases. Wooden artefacts from pile dwellings lead experts to suspect that the plant was grown by humans in antiquity. Its leaves, stem and flowers are utilized in naturopathy. One tincture composed of these parts is a homeopathic remedy used to treat infections of the lymph nodes, skin conditions and certain rheumatic ailments. Nowadays, Traveller's Joy is used as graft material for large-flowered cultivated sorts. The plant is not fed upon by wild animals due to its acrid sap.