Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
Wisterias [wis-TEER-e-yas] are sturdy woody vines with graceful foliage and spectacular cascading flowers. Members of the pea family, they have always been landscape favorites. They are perennial vines, living for many years. Many regarded wisterias as the premier ornamental vine. Wisterias are both beautiful and easy to grow. While there are many types of wisterias, Chinese Wisteria is the most widely grown, and is the most popular in northern yards and gardens.
Size: Uncontrolled, Chinese wisteria will climb to 40 feet or more, and spread as far as it is permitted. It is a twining vine, climbing by wrapping itself around its support from left to right (in contrast to its Japanese cousin which twines right to left). A vigorous grower, it will spread lushly every year. Wisteria vines are long-lived, their woody trunks often achieving a diameter of 12 inches over a lifetime.
Foliage: Chinese wisteria leaves are made up of many leaflets arranged along stems from 6 to 12 inches long. Typically there are 9 to 13 dark green leaflets per stem. Since wisteria vines are deciduous, the leaves drop off in the fall.
Flowers: Individual Chinese wisteria flowers are like pea flowers. They hang in magnificent 6 to 12 inch violet-blue clusters along the vines. Emerging in mid-May before the leaves come out, they all blossom simultaneously on each cluster. They last for 4 to 5 weeks in spring. They are only mildly fragrant, although those of the variety `Alba' are much more so. Later in the season the flowers give way to long, furry green bean pods that hang on the vines well into winter. These are not edible.
Better Varieties: `Alba' has fragrant white flowers. Another type of wisteria, Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda), has larger leaves, grows taller and twines from right to left on its support. There are two Native American wisterias, (Wisteria frutescens) and Wisteria macrostachya) that grow wild in the woodlands of the Southeast into Texas and in Illinois south through Arkansas, respectively. They are not as big and showy as the wisterias from Asia.