Scientific Name: Wisteria species
Family: Fabaceae (the Legume, Pea, or Bean family)
Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) – often with a Concord grape-like scent
American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) – typically not very fragrant
Kentucky Wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya) – typically not very fragrant
Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) – most fragrant, often a Concord grape-like scent
Silky Wisteria (Wisteria venusta) – largest flowers, fragrant
This beautiful, large woody vine is famous for its large, and sometimes fragrant, racemes (pendulous cluster of flowers) in purples, pinks, and white. However, this fast growing vine also puts nitrogen back into the soil and attracts many beneficial insects to the garden. A standout for the Forest Garden.
There are 10 species of Wisteria that are native to eastern North America and Asia (China, Korea, and Japan), but because of its showy flowers, it has been introduced all over the world.
- The world’s largest Wisteria vine is in California, planted in 1894, and measures more than 1 acre (0.40 ha) in size!
- Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) flowers were cured with sugr and mixed with flower to make a delicacy called “Teng Lo” – I have yet to find the recipe for this
USING THIS PLANT
- Edible Parts: There are many reports that the entire plant contains a toxic substance (a glycoside); however, there are only a few reports in the medical literature (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8433406). There are also many reports of traditional cultures, especially in Asia, that eat many parts of this plant. It is quite likely that heat destroys this toxic compound. Here is a great article on Wisteria from Green Dean of Eat the Weeds (http://www.eattheweeds.com/wisteria-criteria-2/). Until I find more reliable information one way or the other, I’m not going to be eating a lot of Wisteria, but I am dying to try some Wisteria Fritters… I’ll let you know when I do.
- Flowers – washed and boiled or battered and fried into fritters.
- Seeds – cooked or baked. Baked Japanese Wisteria seeds are said to have a taste similar to chestnuts.
- Leaves – young, tender leaves are cooked and eaten, and may be used as a tea substitute.
- Nitrogen Fixer – puts nitrogen back into the soil which may be used as a fertilizer to other plants.
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
- Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
- Parasitic Wasps prefer to live around this plant
- Thickets can create habitat for small birds and mammals and other wildlife
- Can grow seasonally along structures (fences, arbors, pergolas, etc.) which would be great at blocking or directing wind, providing Summer shade, or seasonal privacy screens
- Fiber from the plant has been used to make paper, thread, and cloth.
Yield: No reliable information
Harvesting: October – December.
Storage: Best used fresh or dried
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information available
Chill Requirement: Likely considering the Hardiness Zone and the flowering nature of this plant, but there is not reliable information available.
Plant Type: Large woody vine with seasonal herbaceous growth
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Vertical/Climbing Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Many species and varieties available
Flowering: Summer. May-July. Flowers on when mature which may take only a few years with Kentucky Wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya), but can take up to twenty years with Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
Years to Begin Flowering: 1-2 years, especially with plants propagated through cuttings, but can take 20+ years for plants propagated from seed
Years of Useful Life: Easily dozens of years. Many documented vines are over one hundred years old.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 20-50 feet (6-15 meters) tall and wide – depends on the species/variety
Roots: Strong, extensive root system, can be heart-shaped
Growth Rate: Fast
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full to partial shade
Shade: Tolerates light to medium shade
Moisture: Prefers medium wet soils, Kentucky Wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya) can tolerate wet soils
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (5.5-7.5)
- Avoid fertilizing Wisteria with nitrogen – this plant can produce its own nitrogen, so excess will inhibit flower production.
- Choose the location for planting carefully. The strong roots can destroy walls and pavement if planted too close.
Propagation: Hardwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings. By seed, but plants grown from seed may take decades to bloom.
Depending on the location and the amount of room you have, some pruning may be required to keep the vine in bounds.
- Can spread quickly to a large size. Consider this when choosing a planting location and when determining how much seasonal pruning you desire to do.
- Roots can be vigorous and expansive in some species.
- Poisonous (see comments above)