Driving around Atlanta (Georgia, USA) in the springtime is a feast for winter-weary eyes. Flowering Bradford Pear trees share the awakening landscape with Tulip Poplars. The real color riot happens when the Dogwoods and Azaleas bloom almost simultaneously. Interspersed in there (and generally blooming longer) is what at first appears to be another flowering tree but in reality are vines of Wisteria twining through the trees.
Wisteria nearly made the cut for my upcoming book, Baneful. It’s pretty and poisonous. Agrarian-types would consider it baneful, as well. It grows almost as fast as Kudzu and if left to its own devices, will strangle whatever it’s climbing on. (I can remember a Wisteria plant in the back yard of my first house. It grew so fast I swore I could see it creep across the ground.) The largest Wisteria vine is in Sierra Madre, California. It weighs more than 250 tons and covers an acre. (You might want to read that link – that vine literally destroyed a house!)
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
(photograph taken in England but it could just as well be Atlanta)
There are many Species in the Wisteria genus. The most widely-known Species, Wisteria chinensis, is found not only in Asian gardens but those in the eastern United States, as well. It contains a glycoside called wisterin that causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other gastric upsets if ingested. The flowers are said to be sweet, similar to grapes and as a member of the pea family, its seed pods may be taken for such.
Although Wikipedia says the flowers of some Species are toxic and some are not, I can find no indication anywhere that there is a non-toxic Species so treat them all with care.
Wisteria (especially Asian Wisteria) can take decades to grow if you plant seeds. Most garden centers carry small plants grown from softwood cuttings but even those take awhile to flower: they must pass from the juvenile to the adult stage, first. Like most anything that flowers, it prefers partial- to full-sun. Also like most flowering plants, a fairly rich soil will help with the number of flowers, which is probably why it does so well in woodland-type settings.
Surprisingly, the only reference to Wisteria I can find other than horticultural is that the Japanese use paintings of Wisteria as good-luck charms. Despite the fact that several Species are native to the United States, even my Native American reference books have no Wisteria entries. If anyone knows anything, I’d love to hear!
If you don’t mind training it, cutting it back, encouraging it to grow in your chosen direction, Wisteria would make a pretty addition to your garden. Just be prepared to watch it.