Specimen Spotlight: American Wisteria

By Cathy Halloran, EMGV

American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), a better non-invasive native choice for the garden. (Photo by Pamela Dempsey.)

I’ll never forget the first time in Paris over 30 years ago. It was springtime, and the wisteria was in bloom. The smell and the purple flowers dangling in mid-air will be forever in my memory. Then, 4 years ago I moved to North Carolina, and in springtime once again saw wisteria. But, this time it was everywhere and somehow choking all the trees and shrubs it surrounded. I’ve learned there is invasive wisteria and native wisteria.

The invasive species are Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda). The non-invasive, or native species of wisteria is American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). If you want to incorporate a wisteria vine into your garden, a good option is the American wisteria. This deciduous wisteria blooms after the leaves emerge. Twines are counterclockwise woody vines that grow to 40 feet or more. Its stems are thinner than the invasive species, and they won’t damage wooden arbors or trellises. It’s well-suited for our planting zone.

The cultivar ‘Amethyst Falls’ has deep blue/purple flowers and blooms in spring and summer. The American wisteria is a larval host plant to both the silver-spotted skipper and long- tailed skipper butterflies, an added bonus of adding this plant to your garden.

(Left) American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) ‘Amethyst Falls’ is sometimes referred to as a dwarf variety because of the smaller leaves, flowers and more compact form, offers another native alternative for vine-loving gardeners. (Photo by David J. Stang courtesy of NCSU Plant Toolbox site). (Right) While beautiful, the Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) can quickly become troublesome in the landscape due to its highly invasive nature. (Photo courtesy of NCSU Plant Toolbox site.)

*References and Additional Reading

NCSU Plant Toolbox Wisteria frutescens


NC Plant Toolbox Wisteria sinensis


Missouri Botanical Garden, Wisteria frutescens


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