Wisteria is a twining deciduous vine that produces many clusters of fragrant and beautiful flowers. This plant's rapid growth makes it useful as a cover for structures within the landscape such as trellises. Wisteria can easily be pruned and trained. In fact, it is required to prevent the plant from growing rampant. Kept under control, wisteria can add a colorful and attractive addition to the garden.
The base of the plant is thick, woody and gnarly, particularly on mature plants. The vines twine easily and run upward into whatever is available to climb. Several smooth, oval, pointed leaflets alternate on each leaf stem. The flowers are white, pink, blue or purple and hang in large, attractive clusters that are from 4 to 20 inches long. Each floret of the cluster resembles a sweet pea blossom, with a large flared petal on the top of the bloom and several small folded petals on the bottom. Each floret is attached to the vine by a stem. The seed pod is large, often 8 or 9 inches long, fuzzy and dusty green with flat, round seeds inside.
Growing best in hardiness zones 6 through 9, wisteria grows very quickly. It is an aggressive climbing vine that, if left unchecked, can girdle a tree it may be growing on, killing the host. The height of a wisteria vine is only limited by the structure it is climbing, sometimes growing into trees over 60 feet high. Wisteria is very long-lived.
Wisteria can grow well in full sun or heavy shade. It will perform well growing in a wide variety of soil types, preferring well-drained and moist, rich soils. The plant is easy to establish and requires little care. It can be propagated by cuttings and seeds. One of the easiest ways to propagate the plant is to bend a vine to the ground and cover a section of the vine with soil. The buried plant will soon root and can be cut loose and dug up as a completely separate plant.
There are several uses for the wisteria plant, which can be grown in containers and pruned regularly to keep the plant small. Wisteria can even be trained as a bonsai plant—or used to cover trellises, pergolas or unsightly objects such as chain-link fences.
Species and Varieties
There are different species of wisteria in the United States. Wisteria frutescens is a native form. Wisteria sinensis or Chinese wisteria and Wisteria floribunda or Japanese wisteria are introduced species.
Different varieties of wisteria include Alba, which have white blossoms; Carnea, Rosea and Rubra, with rose- and pink-colored flowers; Praecox, with blue flowers; and Macrobotrys, Purpurea and Violacea Plena, with a range of purple blossoms.