Native Alternative to Invasive Imported Wisteria
By: Julie Day
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.
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 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.
How to Grow American Wisteria
Follow these tips when growing American wisteria in your yard:
- North Carolina Wildflowers (photos of American vs. Chinese wisteria)
- Exotic Wisterias (U.S. Forest Service Invasive Species Program)