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Old man’s beard

Old man’s beard is a fast growing vine that rapidly covers and strangles native trees and shrubs, eventually killing them. It threatens large areas of native bush in the Waikato region. Old man’s beard is an introduced clematis that should not be confused with native clematis species. Find out how to recognise old man’s beard and check out our tips for control.

Photograph of old man's beard

On this page: why old man’s beard is a pest how to recognise old man’s beard, responsibility for control, how to control old man’s beard, follow-up management, further information, related publications

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Why old man’s beard is a pest

Old man’s beard (Clematis vitalba) is a fast growing vine that covers and strangles trees and shrubs. Its thick blanket of growth blocks light from getting through to the plants underneath, eventually killing them. Native bush is particularly vulnerable to old man’s beard and large areas can quickly become dominated by this pest.

A native of Europe, old man’s beard was introduced to New Zealand as an ornamental plant. There are scattered infestations throughout most of the Waikato region, and it is now classed as an ‘eradication pest’.

New infestations can come from:

  • dumped garden waste - containing fragments of old man’s beard
  • seeds – which are spread by the wind or carried in water
  • stems - which re-grow wherever they touch the ground.

How to recognise old man’s beard

It is important not to confuse old man’s beard with native clematis species. Check out the key differences between them below.

Identifying features

Old man’s beard

  • Deciduous – loses its leaves in winter.
  • Vine has ribs or furrows along its length and stringy bark when old.
  • Adult leaves1 are usually in groups of five, and seedling leaves are in groups of three.
  • Leaves have a dull surface and often have a jagged (serrated) edge.
  • Flowers are greenish-white, sweet scented, small (two centimetres in diameter), and have four petals.
  • Flowers from December to March, followed by distinctive grey, fluffy balls of seed heads in autumn.

Native clematis – 10 different species

  • Evergreen – have leaves all year round.
  • Vines are smooth – no ribs or furrows.
  • Leaves are usually in groups of three, but occasionally in groups of six.
  • Leaves have a shiny surface.
  • Flowers from September to November.

Responsibility for control

All landowners/occupiers are encouraged to control old man’s beard on their property. However, Waikato Regional Council will undertake control work when:

  • there are large infestations
  • access to the vines is difficult
  • you are unsure of how to best control it.

Old man’s beard is also banned from sale, propagation, distribution and commercial display. Please notify Waikato Regional Council if you find old man’s beard in the Waikato region.

How to control old man’s beard

There are two main ways to control old man’s beard:

  • physical control
  • herbicide control.

Physical control

  1. With a single vine or a small patch, trace the vines back to the roots and dig them out.
  2. Do not leave cut stems lying on the ground. Any vines trailing along the ground must be removed to stop them from taking root and re-establishing.
  3. New growth or seedlings should be pulled out and burned or deeply buried.

Herbicide control

  1. Cut vines at two points - once at waist height and again at ground level. This stops the vine from touching the ground again and re-sprouting.
  2. Immediately paint both ends of the cut vine with herbicide. Use a paintbrush, eyedropper or small squeeze bottle. Do not remove treated stumps and roots from the ground until the roots have died off.
  3. Gather up the pieces of cut vine that have fallen to the ground. Stop them from re-sprouting by doing one of the following:
    • burning
    • soaking in herbicide
    • burying deeply.
  4. Leave the cut vines in the tree to dry out before you pull them down to remove them. This stops them from ripping and damaging the host tree during removal.
  5. Remove and burn any vines that are trailing along the ground.

If the infestation is too large to trace the vines, an overall foliage spray is the most effective option. Spray should be applied from November to March.

When using herbicides:

  • Always read the instructions on the manufacturer’s label closely.
  • Always wear protective clothing.
  • Always minimise the risk to desirable plants.
  • Contact the supplier for further advice.

Disclaimer: Although this content has been prepared in good faith from a number of sources believed to be reliable, Waikato Regional Council does not give any warranty that all information contained is accurate or complete, or that advice given will be appropriate in all circumstances. Mention of product trade names implies neither endorsement of those products nor criticisms of similar products not mentioned.

Follow-up management

After initial control, it’s important to:

  • revisit the site at least annually to control re-growth
  • stop weeds invading by replanting with desirable plants (preferably natives) once re-growth is no longer a problem.

Summary of herbicides and application methods for control

When using herbicides:

  • read the instructions on the manufacturer's lable closely
  • always wear protective clothing
  • always minimise the risk to desirable plants
  • contact the supplier for further advice.
Herbicide Application
Banvine® Stump treatment
Escort® Stump treatment
  Spray application
Grazon® Stump treatment
  Spray application
Tordon Brushkiller® Stump treatment
  Spray application
Roundup Renew® Stump treatment
  Spray application
Vigilant® Stump treatment

Further information

For further information and advice contact your local plant pest contractor.

Related publications

  • Visit our Waikato Regional Pest Management Strategy.
  • 'What makes a pest a pest? - A guide to Waikatos pest management future'.  Pick up, download, or order for free from our offices.
  • 'Plant me instead - Plants to use in place of common pest plants.  Pick up or order  for free from our offices.
  • Download the National Pest Plant Accord.
  • 'Poisonous plants and fungi in New Zealand - A guide for parents, schools and child minders' Pick up or order for $15 from our offices.


  1. For the purpose of this publication we refer to leaflets as leaves.