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Old man’s beard is a deciduous climbing vine that grows up to 20m tall. It has woody stems with six prominent ribs and pale bark that rubs off easily. The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs along the stems, and each is made up of five leaflets (like a hand). The thin leaflets are sparsely hairy and have bluntly toothed or smooth edges. Fragrant, creamy-white flowers are produced from December to May. Flowers are followed by dense, fluffy clusters of seeds, which persist over winter.
Old man's beard is a light-demanding species. It grows in low forest, scrub, shrubland, riparian margins and in forests with well-lit margins, wide tracks, waterways or clearings. Sometimes confused with native clematis, however the native species have three leaflets (not five), no lines or grooves on the stems, and flower from August to December.
Old man’s beard is a fast-growing vine with the ability to climb up into the canopy. It smothers and collapses even tall trees and can reduce a forest to an impenetrable, low-growing infestation of the vine. It moves into established forest over the canopy by layering.
Old man's beard produces huge amounts of seed, which initially have a high viability rate. Seed viability declines rapidly but some seed is retained in the soil for up to five years. It also reproduces vegetatively from rooting stem fragments and vines that touch the ground can take root.