Southlandish! * Wisteria


Wisteria   { Featured Southerly }

I’ve heard it said that you make your own luck.

If that’s so, then I must be doing it wrong.

I catch all the red lights, the cash register tape routinely needs to be replaced when I’m checking out, and if you ever find yourself behind me in line–any line–do yourself a favor and change lanes.

Growing up it was the same way: In sports I always played for the losing team; in card games I usually drew a hand so low I had a better chance of going nil than sweeping the table; and in high school I really was home sick when everyone else skipped class to go to the county fair and received zeros on all the classwork that was missed.

So if luck be a lady, she’s no good friend of mine.

She has, however, taken a little more kindly to my brother.

For example: Nearly every sport my brother played was for a trophy-wielding championship team; he almost always came up aces when playing cards; and he never got busted for turning in my old school projects as his own–even the time he cut an old project of mine in two, gave one half to his friend, and each of them made an A.

Of all the luck.

But even in spite of our divergent runs of luck, I do not begrudge my brother his good fortune–except for one thing. One thing I do find unconditionally maddening:

Every year the wisteria blooms on his birthday.

His birthday is only a blessed two weeks after mine (well, two years and two weeks) and never-not-once has that divine vine so much as unfurled one single petal on my birthday. But every year without fail, when my brother’s birthday rolls around, that bewitching weed is in full and faithful bloom, draping itself all over the landscape like something right out of a Faulkner novel.

Every single year. And I have always envied that, especially during my college years.

While I can’t say for sure that Chapel Hill is the southern part of heaven, come mid-April it does put forth some pretty convincing proof. Almost overnight the wisteria bursts into color around campus, flaunting its purple plumage and rivaling the dogwoods and azaleas (the town’s more famous flora) in spring’s pageantry of blooming beauties.

Succumbing to its seasonal enchantment–its sweet, wafting perfume, its pendulous petals–each spring a friend and I would undertake a “wisteria walk,” delighting to discover it lightly raining down over aged gravestones, threading through boughs surrounding a tucked-away castle, and adding charm and color to sunny little side streets.

The wisteria had such an effect on our sensibilities that even now she and I will message each other at the first spring sighting. Admittedly, though, in recent years, the messaging has been a bit one-sided since she lives in San Francisco and can pop over to the park and see the wisteria blooming year-round, any season, any day.

Some people have all the luck.

Southerly: The two types of wisteria commonly found in the South are actually not Southern in origin. However, like so many crops and Yankees, the plant took quick root and made itself right at home.

First introduced to the region in the nineteenth century, wisteria has spent the past 200 years twining its way so thickly through the entire South–upper states, coastal zones, mountain areas, nowhere are its beguiling tendrils unknown–that it is now considered firmly Southern. Southern Living even calls it “the South’s most seductive vine.” **

It shows no signs of slowing down, either. Indeed, if left unchecked, this plant may just swallow the South up whole.

As a matter of fact, there is one documented account of a near-death-by-wisteria experience: A South Carolina couple narrowly escaped when a wisteria vine (and the oak tree it strangled) fell onto their house while they were sleeping. *

Wisteria is a force to reckon with.

Ask any gardener. He or she will testify to this fact. This vine demands intense and active care, sometimes requiring serious pruning every two weeks to keep it from crushing a porch, overturning an arbor, or choking the life out of a nearby tree.

Given its propensity to “devilishly wrap” itself around “anything in its path and standing still,” *** wisteria is considered a weed and its common Asian forms are included on the USDA list of invasive plants. In fact, the U.S. Forest Service refers to large swaths of wisteria as an “infestation.” ****

A cautionary tale of deceptive charm and sprawling oppression seems somewhere apparent in the beauty-and-the-beast nature of this flowering temptress, but as for me, come April I know I will again be on the lookout for those languorous, trailing bowers of blue-purple blossoms. I just can’t help myself.

wisteria1Summary: A member of the pea family (Fabaceae), wisteria is a twining, usually woody vine with blue, purple, or white flowers that grow in large, drooping clusters of opulent, pendulous streamers of fragrant petals. It blooms in early to mid-spring (around here in this part of North Carolina it blossoms in mid-April, just before the ides).

From a seedling, some wisteria may not blossom for ten or even twenty years! But when it does, it may not stop: A wisteria vine in Japan is on the record as measuring 32-feet thick!

Stories vary slightly as to the first introduction of wisteria to the United States, but all sources agree that the two most popular varieties of wisteria both came from Asia sometime in the mid-nineteenth century.

Japanese wisteria (Wisteria florabunda) is the hardiest variety and has fragrant, violet flowers, whose clusters average 18 to 20 inches in length and open gradually from bottom to top.

Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is smaller (about 12 inches) and less fragrant, with clusters that open all at once.

Although primarily native to Asia and North America, wisteria is widely cultivated across the globe, its beautiful flowers prompting many romantic name variations, such as blue rain, sweet plant, black dragon, and snow showers.

Names for the wisteria native to the United States tend to be a little more down-to-earth; varieties like Clara Mack and Aunt Dee sound more akin to a role call for a family barbecue than a dreamy date-night backdrop.

Except, that is, for Amethyst Falls.

An American breed, this superior wisteria form is widely recommended for intentional planting. A romantic-sounding late-bloomer, Amethyst Falls minds its manners, doesn’t wander off, and refrains from taking over.

Which may just make it a floral Southern belle.


Sources: {click title of online source to visit}

Bender, Steve. “Peak Color: Keep This Vine in Check.” Southern Living Mar. 2013: 47-48. Print.

—–. “Wisteria Pruning 101.” Web. 12 April 2015.

Gilmer, Maureen. “Wisteria Has a Long History in the U.S.” Web. 12 April 2015.

Rostaing, Jeane. “Wisteria: A Dangerous Beauty (Are You Tempted?).” 24 March 2015. Web. 12 April 2015. ***

Stone, Katharine R. “Wisteria floribunda, W. sinensis: Fire Effects Information System.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Research Station. Fire Sciences Laboratory. 2009. Web. 12 April 2015.  ****

WYFF. “Tree, Largest Wisteria Vine in South Carolina Destroy Home.” 14 July 2013. Web. 12 April 2015. *

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