Wisteria is a genus of 10 species of twining, usually woody vines of the pea family (Fabaceae).
It is perennial plant that can survive from 50 to 100 years or even longer.
Wisterias are native to China, Korea, and Japan but are widely cultivated in other regions for their attractive growth habit and beautiful profuse flowers.
Chinese wisteria was brought to the United States for horticultural purposes in 1816, while Japanese wisteria was introduced around 1830.
The first Wisteria was brought into Europe in 1816 by an English man.
Wisteria can live a long, healthy life with no pruning at all, happily twining, climbing, and sprawling over everything in its path.
Most species are large and fast-growing and can tolerate poor soils.
They can climb as high as 20 m (66 ft) above the ground and spread out 10 m (33 ft) laterally.
The leaves are alternate, 15 to 35 cm (6 to 14 in) long, pinnate, with 9 to 19 leaflets.
The wisteria is known for its stunning flowers. These grow in the spring once the tree is over about 12 years old. The flowers are produced in pendulous racemes 10 to 80 cm (4 to 31 in) long and are purple, violet, pink or white.
The seeds are borne in long, narrow legumes and are poisonous.
All parts of the plant contain a saponin called wisterin, which is toxic if ingested, and may cause dizziness, confusion, speech problems, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhea and collapse.
The plants usually take several years to start flowering and thus are usually cultivated from cuttings or grafts.
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.
The world’s largest known wisteria is in Sierra Madre, California, measuring more than 0.4 hectares (1 acre) in size and weighing 250 tons. Planted in 1894, it is of the ‘Chinese lavender’ variety.
Amazingly, there is a 1200 year old Wisteria tree in Japan today!
Wisteria can be cultivated in the form of bonsai.
Wisteria symbolizes long-life, immortality and wisdom.
The botanist Thomas Nuttall said he named the genus Wisteria in memory of Dr. Caspar Wistar (1761–1818).
It was originally called ’’Zi Ten’’ which means ’’blue vine’’ in China.
Because of its hardiness and tendency to escape cultivation, these non-native wisterias are considered invasive species in many parts of the U.S., especially the Southeast, due to their ability to overtake and choke out other native plant species.
An aquatic flowering plant with the common name wisteria or ‘water wisteria’ is in fact Hygrophila difformis, in the family Acanthaceae.