Old Man’s Beard (Clematis microphylla)

Bearded masses of Old Man's Beard
In spring and summer, trees are covered by bearded masses of Clematis

Common names: Old Man’s Beard, Small Leaved Clematis

Taxonomic name: Clematis microphylla

Family: Ranunculaceae

Habitat: Mallee, woodlands

Form: Twining climber

Flowering Time: Winter to Spring

Ngarrindjeri name: Yalkura or Yalkuri

Kaurna name: Kadlotti

Description and uses: 

Our Aussie plant, ‘Old Man’s Beard’ (Clematis microphylla) is a very different plant to the one you will see under that name in most herbals (that’s Usnea, a lichen). Once again, common names, though very descriptive, can be misleading.

Ours’ is a climber, a very good one at that, frequently found covering plants in the bush with its vigorous growth and distinguishing bearded fruit. It is these ‘beards’ that give ‘Old Man’s Beard’ its name, as en-masse, they look like a whole lot of beard.

The way I show people to identify this Clematis when it’s not flowering or in fruit is to look at the small leaves (‘microphylla’ means ‘very small leaved’) which are always in groups of three. That’s the most distinguishing feature. There are two varieties, divided by the size of their leaves, but for our purposes, they’re essentially the same.

Old Man's Beard has its leaves in sets of three
Leaves are always in sets of three
The feathery beards on the seeds
The feathery beards on the seeds is a give away when identifying Clematis. microphylla

So, what good is it, you may ask. Well…

You can eat the roots. Raw, they have a biting, peppery taste, but taste just a little better cooked.

Crushing the leaves and inhaling their peppery aroma has been used by the locals as a way to relieve headaches. Steaming the leaves and placing them on arthritic and just plain achy joints can bring welcome relief quite quickly as the compounds cause local irritation and therefore blood flow to the affected area.

Of course, you’ll want to nibble on the leaves. Be careful here, as on first bite, they don’t seem that strong, but the longer you leave them in your mouth, the hotter and stronger they get. So be careful and only have a nibble…They can burn your mouth!

Downy clematis seeds
Downy Clematis beards
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