Clematis ‘Rouge Cardinal’

When we moved into our current home 12 years ago, a large ‘Jackmanii’ Clematis grew up the light pole in the front yard. ‘Jackmanii’ vies with ‘Nelly Moser’ for the title of most common Clematis in American gardens, and for good reason. It is an amazing performer that continues to get better with age. It is not uncommon for our ‘Jackmanii’ to morph into a giant mass of purple flowers in late May and early June. In fact, this spring it grew so vigorously, it completely destroyed the glass housing at the top of the light pole.

Clematis ‘Jackmanii’

Clematis is a genus that is native to many continents, and by some estimates includes nearly 300 species. Many of these species were classified by Linnaeus himself. The genus belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), a fact I would never have guessed at first glance. Other genera that belong to this family include Ranunculus, Thalictrum, Delphinium, Aquilegia, Helleborus and Acontium. The name Clematis (pronounced KLEma-tis) comes from a Greek word klema meaning vine or tendril.

I was so smitten by ‘Jackmanii’ (or ‘Jack’ as we affectionately call him) in our first summers here, I always was on the lookout for other Clematis varieties to add to our garden. During one visit to Greenview, one of my favorite local garden centers that is now closed, I saw a Clematis that reminded me a great deal of ‘Jackmanii’ but with dark maroon flowers instead of Jack’s purple blooms. It was in a green Monrovia two-gallon pot, and a very healthy specimen. A beautiful plant with a great name — ‘Rouge Cardinal’. Sold!

I must have misread the sign, for I was shocked when the cashier scanned the tag and it rang up at $50. Although I’ve certainly spent more on a single plant since, at the time I was certainly not accustomed to spending that kind of money on plants. But I was already taken with ‘Rouge Cardinal’, so I calmly paid the cashier and brought my newly prized treasure home to the garden.

Clematis ‘Rouge Cardinal’

‘Rouge Cardinal’ was introduced in 1968 by French nurseryman André Girault, the same year he created Plandorex, a consortium of growers that today exports millions of plants each year. It is a large-flowered,  Type 3 clematis, meaning it can be pruned heavily in early spring and blooms on new wood. ‘Rouge Cardinal’ is the same class of Clematis as ‘Jackmanii’ which was developed by Jackman’s Nurseries in the 1860s.

Clematis ‘Rouge Cardinal’

This spring, I didn’t get around to pruning our ‘Rouge Cardinal’, so it has grown bigger and more full than any other year. The bloom show has been nothing short of spectacular, starting in late April and showing no signs of stopping. A couple of weeks ago, my wife and son noticed that two adult cardinals had been flying in and out from behind the foliage. We peeked in from the side and saw the nest and eggs. A cardinal family in our ‘Rouge Cardinal’! Although I wasn’t able to get good photos of the nest because of where it was built (smart parents), It has been a complete joy watching the eggs hatch and the babies grow.

If you look closely just below the leaf at the center of this photo, you can see one of the fledglings.

A few days ago, the fledglings left the nest. We haven’t seen them in the yard yet, but both parents have been voraciously picking serviceberries and cherries from our backyard trees and flying off with them. We can only imagine the delight of their babies when mom and dad come back with such a delectable treat.

As I sit at our dining room table writing this post, looking out over our slowly illuminating garden, the male cardinal has landed on the deck railing and peered in through the windows as if to say, “We’d heard you always mentioning our name around that plant, so we thought it was custom made for our new family. Thanks for the digs.” All I can think in return is “No, thank you for adding your story to the history of our ‘Rouge Cardinal’.”

If you are interested in growing Clematis in your own garden, check out Gardening with Clematis by Linda Beutler.

Published by Christopher Tidrick

Be real. Love always. Share beauty. Lead well. Learn more.


  1. I've finished my post! I chose Passiflora x belotii, P. 'Imperatrice Eugenie,' P. alatocaerulea or whatever naming you prefer to use. As it turns out, this plant has no use for a name.



  2. Love the vivid purple color! Very pretty.



  3. Love Clematis and can never have too many. I like to have them clamber up along with my climbing roses. For some unknown reason I lost a Montana this spring. Mind you a lost plant means a new one can take it's place.



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