Friday, April 16, 2010

Wistful for Wisteria

Who hasn't seen a wisteria vine climbing up a telephone pole along the highway in the spring, with its lovely lilac clusters hanging like chandelier prisms? It never ceases to amaze me that the most neglected (by human hands) plants somehow seem to put on a beautiful display every year.

When I was a child there was a wisteria vine growing on a telephone pole across the street. While playing with the little girls living near the wisteria vine, a huge wasp stung me on the neck. For years after that I wouldn't go near a wisteria vine.

 My back yard had two small wisteria vines. Instead of blooming all they did was entwine themselves in the crepe myrtle trees. I finally dug them up. But I do have a vine that I planted along the fence on the south side of my house, and hopefully one day it will bloom. I've since learned that it may take years for a plant to bloom--they stay in their 'juvenile' state for years.

This little bush is growing in the front yard of my friend's house.  It gets plenty of sun and she has trained it to stay in bush form. It's not planted near anything it can attach itself to; therefore, it should always be easy to manage.

I didn't know that wisteria is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae). It was named after Caspar Wistar (1761-1818), an anatomy professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Another small vine more in the 'bush' form, in my daughter's neighborhood.  The only color flowers I have seen are white and lavender/lilac, but apparently the flowers also appear in shades of pink, bluish-purple, and purple.

There are two species of wisteria seen in home gardens: Wisteria cinensis (Chinese wisteria) and Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria).  The Chinese wisteria grows to a height of 25 feet with flower clusters from six to twelve inches in length. The individual flower clusters open simultaneously prior to the emergence of the foliage. The white form of Chinese wisteria (above) is extremely fragrant.

The Japanese wisteria also grows up to 25 feet. Its flowers open individually from the base of the cluster to the tip. It tends to bloom later in the spring, usually late May. Based on this information, our area seems to be populated with the Chinese wisteria.

Wisteria climbing up a still-dormant tree.

Could this be Japanese wisteria? Are its blossoms are opening one at a time? I don't know, but it's such a lovely vine that heralds the change of seasons unexpectedly. The thing I have noticed about wisteria: one day you don't see and the next day you do!


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