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Blooming Wisteria

May 27, 2021

A well-behaved wisteria, the Kentucky wisteria is perfect for any gardener. Many are tempted by Japanese wisteria’s curtain of 24-inch flower spikes. This exotic species, however, comes with a vigorous habit. If you are not prepared to commit to strict pruning, cautions Senior Director of Horticulture Louis Bauer, “the Japanese wisteria will literally run across the ground until it finds something to climb up!”

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Wisteria frutescens subsp. macrostachya ‘Blue Moon’ (Kentucky wisteria) is planted in the Elliptical Garden, Wave Hill’s own native plant garden. This handsome portrait was shot by Nature into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill photographer Ngoc Minh Ngo in May, 2017.
Like many plants, wisterias come in an assortment of colors. Flanking the entrance to the picnic area adjacent to Glyndor Gallery are two wisterias of the ‘Alba’ cultivar, referring to its white flowers. Since they grow side by side, it is easy to see the differences in how fast they grow and when they bloom, as well as the direction in which their stems twist.
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Left to right: Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria) and Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria) cultivar ‘Alba’ which produces white flowers

The twist of the trunk exemplifies the age of a Japanese wisteria growing at the southwest corner of Glyndor Gallery. Planted in the late 1800s, the vine may be over 150 years old. It survived a fire that brought down the building previously on this site. Today, it receives very careful maintenance to encourage impressive flushes of flowers and to control its enthusiastic growth habit.

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Wisterias develop gnarly and grooved trunks as they age
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Taken around 1908, this photo shows the same vine that grows on Glyndor Gallery today

Elsewhere in the spring gardens, the buds of Wisteria frutescens subsp. macrostachya cvs. (Kentucky wisteria cultivars) outside the Perkins Visitor Center and in the Elliptical Garden have cracked open to release clusters of blue-purple flowers. In the latter garden area, the final spring-blooming spot for wisteria at Wave Hill, its elegant form is worth the wait. This last shot, a triptych taken early yesterday morning, shows them well along the way to full blooms, with closed buds on the far left, partially opened in the center and fully open on the right.

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Jess Brey,
Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter