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What's the Deal with Wisteria?

Updated: May 31, 2023

Ever spotted these colorful cascading blossoms?

Here in south eastern region of the US, if you take a drive in the springtime and look closely, you're likely to spot these purple, pink, sometimes blue-tinted blossoms dangling from vines along forest edges. But, did you know there are actually 3 distinct types of Wisteria you can encounter here?

  • Japenese Wisteria - Wisteria floribunda

  • Chinese Wisteria - Wisteria sinensis

  • American Wisteria - Wisteria frutescens

Unfortunately.... the Wisteria we tend to ooh and ahh over are actually the Chinese and Japanese varieties which are considered invasive in many parts of the US - including here in the South East. These non-native plants are known to escape cultivation and dominate areas, choking out trees and threatening many native species.

So how are these gorgeous, dainty and delicate flowers ruthlessly taking out our native species?

Well... connected to those blooms are woody-vines known to strangle and smother native species while competing for sunlight. Both the spread and sheer weight of these plants can knock out large swaths of native plants and trees in what seems like no time at all due to their rapid growth rate.


Fun Fact: The Japanese Wisteria climb up along tree trunks in a clockwise direction while the Chinese and American Wisteria only grow upward in a counter-clockwise direction.


Our native Wisteria, Wisteria frutescens, is much less aggressive than the Asian varieties, has tighter flower clusters, and blooms later in the year, usually early summer. If you spot the seed pods of any Wisteria plant you'll see they belong to the bean or legume family Fabaceae. Something unique about all of these varieties is their ability to create nitrogen:


"Wisteria is a nitrogen-fixing legume, which means that microorganisms around the roots help convert atmospheric nitrogen into nutrients."

Therefore when tending to a wisteria plant in your garden, its important to understand how to nurture it. When properly cared for, our native Wisteria can be a beautiful addition to a garden fence, pergola, etc.!

So how can we help with the whole invasive take-over thing? Well... in our research we did find that the vines are great for creating cordage! So next time you're itching to create some rope from scratch go chop down some invasive Wisteria plants - Liz Braidwood Fulmer even has a video about making wisteria baskets! LOVE IT 👏


So in conclusion, let's get some visuals of the Wisteria criteria:


 

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