The newest floral gems to blossom are the Wisteria. Everywhere!

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Wisteria (also spelled Wistaria or Wysteria) is a genus of flowering plants in the pea family, Fabaceae, that includes ten species of woody climbing vines native to the Eastern United States and to China, Korea, and Japan. Some species are popular ornamental plants, especially in China and Japan. An aquatic flowering plant with the common name wisteria or ‘water wisteria’ is in fact Hygrophila difformis, in the family Acanthaceae.

The botanist Thomas Nuttall said he named the genus Wisteria in memory of Dr. Caspar Wistar (1761–1818). Questioned about the spelling later, Nuttall said it was for “euphony,” but his biographer speculated that it may have something to do with Nuttall’s friend Charles Jones Wister, Sr., of Grumblethorpe, the grandson of the merchant John Wister. (Some Philadelphia sources state that the plant is named after Wister. As the spelling is apparently deliberate, there is no justification for changing the genus name under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. However, some spell the plant’s common name “wistaria”, and Fowler is decisively for the “wistaria” spelling.

Wisteria, especially Wisteria sinensis, is very hardy and fast-growing. It can grow in fairly poor-quality soils, but prefers fertile, moist, well-drained soil. They thrive in full sun. Wisteria can be propagated via hardwood cutting, softwood cuttings, or seed. However, specimens grown from seed can take decades to bloom; for this reason, gardeners usually grow plants that have been started from rooted cuttings or grafted cultivars known to flower well. Another reason for failure to bloom can be excessive fertilizer (particularly nitrogen). Wisteria has nitrogen fixing capability, and thus mature plants may benefit from added potassium and phosphate, but not nitrogen. Finally, wisteria can be reluctant to bloom because it has not reached maturity. Maturation may require only a few years, as in Kentucky Wisteria, or nearly twenty, as in Chinese Wisteria. Maturation can be forced by physically abusing the main trunk, root pruning, or drought stress.

A well known Wisteria in Cavaillon - in a few months time, this is huge.

A well known Wisteria in Cavaillon – in a few months time, this is huge.

Wisteria can grow into a mound when unsupported, but is at its best when allowed to clamber up a tree, pergola, wall, or other supporting structure. Whatever the case, the support must be very sturdy, because mature Wisteria can become immensely strong with heavy wrist-thick trunks and stems. These will certainly rend latticework, crush thin wooden posts, and can even strangle large trees. Wisteria allowed to grow on houses can cause damage to gutters, downspouts, and similar structures. Its pendulous racemes are best viewed from below.

Wisteria flowers develop in buds near the base of the previous year’s growth, so pruning back side shoots to the basal few buds in early spring can enhance the visibility of the flowers. If it is desired to control the size of the plant, the side shoots can be shortened to between 20 and 40 cm long in mid summer, and back to 10 to 20 cm in autumn. Once the plant is a few years old, a relatively compact, free-flowering form can be achieved by pruning off the new tendrils three times during the growing season; in June, July and August, for the northern hemisphere. The flowers of some varieties are edible, and can even be used to make wine. Others are said to be toxic. Careful identification by an expert is strongly recommended before consuming this or any wild plant.

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