A gigantic wistaria plant is named in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest flowering plant in the world. The monstrosity covers one acre in the Southern California village of Sierra Madre, where it was originally planted in the late 1800s. The plant continues to grow and thrive, and an annual festival celebrates the wistaria's long life.
In 1894, William and Alice Brugman bought a wistaria plant in a gallon can for less than a dollar. They planted the tree in a corner of their front porch and it started to grow. In 1913, H.T. Fennel bought the house and decided to add more arbors to encourage the vine to cover the house. The plant did just that--covered the house--and in 1931, the roof collapsed from the weight of the plant. While the arbors and part of the house's foundation stayed to support the growing vine, the rest of the house was torn down, and a new house built 200 feet away. The plant grew in popularity, and the city of Sierra Madre eventually became known by the nickname of Wistaria City.
Wistaria seeds supposedly came to Europe in the 13th century when Marco Polo brought the horticultural treasures back with him. In 1818, the plant was named after Caspar Wistar of the University of Pennsylvania to honor his work in the field of science. The spelling of the Wistar's name makes the correct spelling of the plant "wistaria."
A member of the pea family, the gigantic wistaria falls into the Chinese lavender variety.
The record wistaria weighs 250 tons when in blossom, and extends more than an acre in size. At least 500 foot-long branches make up the structure of the tree. More than 1.5 million blossoms cover the tree with 40 blossoms per square foot. The vine seems to produce the most flowers right after a cold winter followed by an unexpected hot spell. After the blossoms fade, seed pods resembling a flat bean start to grow, with the pods popping open in the summer.
In the 1940s and again in the 1960s, the gigantic plant required horticultural restoration. The restoration included the use of dry ice packs and a series of hypodermic needles up to 3 feet long filled with vitamin B. The plant also received hormone treatments to help improve its health. The plant survived and continues to grow to this day.
The annual one-day Sierra Madre Wistaria Festival gives people the perfect opportunity to view the gigantic wistaria plant. The first festival took place in 1918 with 12,000 people in attendance. By the early 1940s, the crowds attending the fair caused the Pacific Electric train to Sierra Madre to add more cars to the route. Nowadays, the festival honoring the "Lavendar Lady" takes place in the city's downtown area; the vine is located on the property of two nearby residences. The festival includes tours of the vine, an arts and crafts fair, live music, a children's play zone and food vendors.