Glory's Garden

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wisteria Fun Facts

If you will recall, my friend Diane Quinn recently sent me stunningly beautiful photos of Wisteria.

Well, I wanted to tell you a bit about wisteria floribunda, that would be the Japanese wisteria. Yes, that's just one fun fact. I have others which you may consider a bit more fun than that, or at the very least, interesting.

Japanese wisteria is a woody vine, hardy in USDA zones 5-9. It grows well in most soils and prefers full sun although it can grow very nicely in shade, but won't flower if not given some sun. They bloom in early to mid spring and have a lovely perfume which some folks say is similar to that of grapes. The small flowers grow on long, drooping sprays called racemes. The Japanese wisteria has the longest flowers of all wisterias, up to 20 inches in length. Blossom color can range from white to several shades of pink, blue or purple.

Japanese wisteria takes its sweet time coming of age. That is to say, a gardener needs to wait a good long time for a wisteria vine to bloom. It could take several years. The fact that they bloom so early in spring may cause trouble, too, because any lingering late frosts could kill the buds and there goes the flowers, which may explain why my wisteria has never even budded up! Ah, well, more trouble in the Poconos. What else is new?

Odd little thing to know: Wisteria is in the pea family, which only makes sense if you've ever seen the seed pods. Oh, but they are lovely! Velvety, long, pale green to light brown pods about an inch and a half wide usually contain 4-6 large poisonous seeds. Now these pods are fun and I'll tell you how I know this. 

I once, shall we say, borrowed some wisteria seed pods from a friend and placed them on the dining room table until I was ready to plant them. The next morning all that was left were the twisty remains of the pods and the seeds scattered all over the floor. Had the cats gotten to them? Oh, no, nothing so predictable as that.  The pods had exploded! Yes, just popped open to became ballistic missiles. Funny thing is, I had wondered what the odd sound was all night while I should have been sleeping. 

Now when I wish to allow these seeds to ripen, I first place them into a bag to contain the explosion and so I don't lose any seeds. Ah, but I do tell you all the time of the fun the flora kingdom can provide, don't I?

Japanese wisteria, because it is a vine grows astonishingly tall--or perhaps I should say long. The branches are at times grown horizontally along a fence and can stretch out to one hundred feet. Oh yeah, baby! That's one heck of a plant. The oblong, smallish leaves are a medium to dark green and grow in groups or clusters to form drooping sprays of foliage.

Because the Japanese Wisteria is a wood vine, it forms, with age, a thick truck much like a tree. With careful and diligent pruning a vine such as this can easily be forced into a tree form. They make excellent bonsai specimens and have been known to live for fifty years and possibly longer.
Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis, is a close cousin and very similar to the Japanese wisteria. The leaves, seed pods and flowers are all virtually the same except that while the flowering racemes of the Japanese wisteria are the longest, the Chinese are usually more abundant. Another way to differentiate them is the direction in which they twine. The Chinese twines in a counter-clockwise direction and the Japanese goes clockwise. The blossoms all burst open at once before the leaves emerge. The foliage can make a great shade cover on archways, arbors and can shield unsightly views if grown on a fence. These can live over one hundred years!

The most effective manner in which to propagate either of these plants is through layering. The seeds will grow a plant. I know because I have done this dozens of times, but it is highly unlikely to get a plant from these seeds which will eventually flower. Don't know why this is, but there you have it....the most probable reason why my tree wisteria never blooms. The bane of my gardening existence was likely grown from seed and not vegetatively propagated from a flowering mother plant. Woe is me!

Well, I do hope this sparked your interest in wisteria. At the very least I hope you enjoyed the pictures. A great big thanks to Diane once more for them. To share such beauty is to share love.


  1. How right you are! I knew nothing about wisteria other than their stunning beauty when in bloom. Very interesting facts, Glory. :-)

  2. Wow, Glory, those are beautiful! Great article on Wisteria! Wonderful pics you took, Diane Q.! I don't think they would survive in our climate, --too bad!--- At least I don't know of anyone that has any up here north of Lake Superior, maybe there ARE some hybrids that are more hardy? Very interesting article, --and of course they make fabulous bonsai!

  3. Raymond, I believe they might be root hardy enough, but I very much doubt of blooming success. :-( Being you are a bonsai master, I would go that way! I'll even send you seeds!

  4. We recently visited White River Gardens in Indianapolis Indiana as a family. We were all quite taken with the gardens and especially the beautiful display of Wisteria covering a large portion of the gardens. I was in LOVE with the flowers/vines. This past weekend we were at a greenhouse and I inquired about their nursery stock and specifically the Wisteria. BINGO...I now have two smallish vines to plant in our back yard adding to the beauty and serenity of our haven there. I'm so excited and I loved this article. I have to run out now and find out what variety my wisteria actually is! Thanks!!!!

    1. Congrats on your new plants! I do hope you enjoy them. Some people claim wisteria are almost weeds the way they grow, but they are some of your nicer "weeds" so what the heck, right? Good luck!

  5. where is this wisteria garden at? id love to go see it


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