There are few more beautiful inflorescences than the large panicles of white flowers, 2–4 in. in diameter, of the puawhananga or Clematis paniculata which appear in late winter and spring in the crowns of forest trees throughout New Zealand. This is one of the nine or so species of Clematis endemic to New Zealand. Altogether, there are about 250 species in this genus, mostly in temperate regions. Apart from the native ones, at least two introduced ones have become garden escapes. The commonest is the traveller's joy, C. vit-alba.
C. paniculata will climb to heights of 30 or more feet and the vine can increase to a thickness of as much as 6 in. through at ground level. Leaves are three foliate, and the broadly ovate leaflets are 2–3 in. long, entire to bluntly toothed. The leaves of seedlings and juveniles are much narrower. This variation of leaf form is to be found in other New Zealand species. The variation is so great in some species that it is difficult to separate closely related ones. Thus C. marata and C. bracteolata form a complex that is difficult to untangle. The flowers of C. paniculata are fragrant, but a species with much more strongly scented flowers is C. foetida, peculiarly named by a French botanist, for it is the opposite to foetid. This species is also found throughout the country. The flowers are yellow and are not nearly as conspicuous as those of C. paniculata. C. afoliata is a peculiar, leafless species in which the leaves appear as spirally coiled petioles only. It is found growing locally in a few places in the southern half of the North Island, and in rocky and open places in tussock grassland in the South Island.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.