Native Alternative to Invasive Imported Wisteria

By: Julie Day
Wild wisteria climbing up trees

Wild wisteria climbing 50-foot hemlock trees.

In the spring, wisteria bursts into bloom along roadways and arbors, reminding me that yes, spring never fails to deliver its promise, and wow – this stuff is taking over the world! Some types of wisteria may be beautiful, but they’re considered invasive species and should be grown with caution (if at all).

If you love the lush beauty of wisteria, the native American species is a great alternative that gives you all the glory without so much of the worry.

Asian wisteria blooms

Chinese and Japanese wisterias are beautiful but invasive.

Chinese and Japanese Wisteria

Chinese and Japanese wisterias (Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda) are spectacular spring-blooming vines, with elegantly twisting trunks and an absolutely breathtaking show of pendulous lavender or pink flowers in the spring. When you think of wisteria, you probably think of these types, draping their foot-long blossoms from high tree branches and growing wild along the highways.

They’re just gorgeous. However, when these non-native vines are introduced into American forests (often accidentally by well-meaning gardeners), they quickly spread and begin the troubling work of blocking light and water, creating dense thickets, interfering with the growth of new saplings, and even pulling large trees down with their heavy, woody stems.

While Chinese and Japanese wisterias are considered invasive species, it’s still possible to buy them, and it’s also tempting to grab a cutting or sprout from a naturalized vine. However, unless you plan to be extra diligent in training and controlling your wisteria, you may want to think twice about bringing it into your yard.

American wisteria in bloom

Less invasive native American wisteria in bloom.

American Wisteria Is the Native Choice

As an alternative, consider growing the less invasive American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). Native to eastern North America, this beautiful vine is every bit as spectacular, with slightly smaller blooms that sometimes repeat in the fall. However, it’s less invasive than its Asian cousins and much less likely to get out of control.

The easiest way to identify American wisteria is by the blooms. While Asian species have elongated blossoms with loose dripping petals, the blooms of American wisteria are shorter, rounder, and more compact (rather pinecone shaped). While the flowers of American wisteria are less aromatic than Asian wisteria, they’re just as beautiful! You can also identify American wisteria by its smooth seed pods, compared with the fuzzy seed pots of Chinese and Japanese species.

When planting American wisteria, don’t be fooled by it being considered “non-invasive” – American wisteria is plenty aggressive, quickly covering arbors and growing to dramatic heights in the trees. In addition, it’s faster to establish and more cold tolerant than Asian wisteria. American wisteria is native to southeastern wetlands, where it grows in partial sun.

Wisteria Fact

Did you know that different species of wisteria vines twine in different directions? Chinese wisteria twines counterclockwise, while American and Japanese species climb clockwise.

How to Grow American Wisteria

Follow these tips when growing American wisteria in your yard:

    Clockwise twining wisteria vines

    Clockwise twining wisteria vines.

  • Water: Because it’s native to wetlands, wisteria may need a little irrigation during dry spells.
  • Use Trellis: Keep wisteria under control by training it to a trellis or arbor, rather than allowing it to grow up trees.
  • Gently Tie: Wisterias climb by twining (rather than clinging), so they may need to be gently tied to the trellis until they grow around it.
  • Keep Pruned: Any vine can run out of control if it’s not tended. Keep wisteria trained to its designated spot, and remove any sprouts or tendrils that stray into neighboring trees or bushes.

Further Information

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6 Comments on “Native Alternative to Invasive Imported Wisteria”

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  • Ms. Betsy Says:
    July 5th, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I just purchased 7 wisteria plants. They are healthy, 5′ plants. I have a 2 story blank wall below my driveway & parking. I had decided that wisteria would be ideal to plant along the 30 foot wall. Now people tell me it would invade my cement footings and crack up my foundation. If I plant them by the 7 foot cinderblack wall they will grow & invade the footings on the cinderblock wall. Now I wish didn’t have ANY. I read where you could dig a trench & insert plexiglass in front of the wall to keep it from messing up the foundation. Sounds like to much trouble. Now what ?



  • Lucile Miller Says:
    July 27th, 2015 at 10:12 pm

    My neighbor has invasive wisteria vines all over an untended area next door to me. She likes the privacy that wisteria vines give her and does not want to cut it back. While I am respectful of her wishes, I don’t want it in my natural area where I am trying to grow natives. Would pouring a below ground concrete wall a couple of feet deep between our yards stop the advance of the roots?



  • Tony Kennett Says:
    July 6th, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and while my wisteria survives the brutal winter it only comes up from the base of the plant each spring. The previous year’s growth dies off, so am I dreaming to hope that any flowers will ever appear? My plant has survived some four winters so far and will grow some fifteen to twenty feet each year.



  • Connie Says:
    June 20th, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    My American Wisteria has pink fuzzy stuff growing on the leaf and stems. I can’t attach a picture of it, although I did try.



  • Brandon Says:
    June 17th, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    Thanks for the info about American Wisteria. It sounds like it is only a step below the chinese vareity. Do you think it is an issue for areas near conservation?

    Also question. Have you ever seen the South Florida Tree known as Clusia, or Pitch Apple growing in Central Florida?

    Thanks,

    Brandon



  • GgmaDonna Says:
    May 4th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Wow! I didn’t know that there was an American species of wisteria. Thanks much for the info.


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