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Banking for future blooms

Hardy Plant Society grant enables Luscher Farm to add a seedbank for endangered varieties of its clematis collection
by: vern uyetake Linda Beutler stands next to a historic Patens plant, the founding species for all large native hybrid clematis plants in the Rogerson Clematis Collection.

There may not be a more clematis friendly place in America than the Rogerson Clematis Collection at Luscher Farm.

And it just got friendlier with the addition of a new seedbank, made up of a freezer and refrigerator that were purchased with a grant from the Hardy Plant Society.

Linda Beutler, whose enthusiasm and expertise for clematis plants know no bounds, can now put all kinds of new species of clematis seeds inside a freezer, thus ensuring that endangered species of clematis will be out of danger and keep thriving.

The process of chilling the seeds, called stratification, is necessary for the plants to germinate. It has two big advantages: One is preserving the seeds, the other is making them bloom much more quickly.

'It usually takes six months to three years for a clematis seed to germinate,' said Beutler, who has been curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection since 2007. 'Now we can create an 'artificial winter' for them, and it makes the process so much quicker. You find out much sooner if the seeds are viable.'

Beutler and her volunteers wasted no time in putting the new process to work. They filled plastic bags with stratified (or chilled) clematis seeds and volcanic ash, froze them for four weeks, took them out, and two weeks later the seeds were germinating.

'We've done in six weeks what it would've taken six months to do otherwise,' Beutler said. 'It is much more efficient and very, very exciting. The seeds are chilled and awakened. The method is so simple it can be done at home.

'Our main mission here is to preserve the building blocks of clematis plants.'

Remarkable things have been happening at the collection site ever since it was brought to Luscher Farm by Brewster Rogerson, a retired professor from Kansas, in 2005. Luscher Farm is now home to 90 species of clematis plants. Beutler is an excellent tour guide for some of the most unique plants of this truly unique collection.

At one spot there is the historic Patens plant, the founding species for all large native hybrid clematis plants. At another place, wrapping prettily around a wooden post, is a Chinese species of clematis. At another post is a Japanese species of the same plant.

The Rogerson Collection is also home to many species of clematis plants that were bred behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War and have only emerged in the last 15 or 20 years.

'There's more surfacing all the time,' Beutler said.

Visitors to Luscher Farm don't even have to go looking for clematis because they are growing right at the entry gate.

Beutler and her compatriots have even improved relations between the United States and Poland. After they sent over a clematis plant from a species that had been lost in Poland since the 1950s, grateful Polish clematis lovers sent them 68 clematis plants.

Now, the Rogerson Collection can trade clematis seeds to other botanical gardens and push them off the endangered species list.

Beutler can look back on the past and smile when she thinks of what has happened over the past four years. But with new resources, including a recent grant from the Rigby family of Lake Oswego, she can further expand her clematis kingdom in the years ahead.

Beutler noted, 'Clematis plants grow on every continent on earth except for Antarctica, in a all kinds of climates from freezing to tropical.'

For more about the Friends of the Rogerson Clematis Collection, go to the website at www.rogersonclematiscollection.org .