Wisteria sinensis

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Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Wisteria sinensis, Sweet (Glycine sinensis, Sims. Wisteria chinensis, DC. W. consequana, Loud. Kraunhia sinensis, Makino). Chinese Wisteria. Fig. 4005. Lvs. smooth or nearly so at maturity, the petiole swollen at base; lfts. about 5 pairs, ovate-acuminate or ovate-lanceolate, short-stalked, 2-3 in. long, the margins ciliate but entire: racemes pendulous, 6-12 in. long, terminating the branches; calyx villous; corolla large, blue-violet, not fragrant, showy. Low altitudes in China, and much cult. there; apparently little grown in this country and not so hardy as W. floribunda. B. M. 2083 (from which Fig. 4005 is adapted). B. R. 650. L.B.C. 8: 773. P. M. 7:127. Var. alba (forma alba, Lindl. Var. albiflora, Lem.) has white fls. I.H. 5:166.

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Wisteria sinensis
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Plant Info
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Division: Magnoliophyta
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Class: Magnoliopsida
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Order: Fabales
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Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Faboideae
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Tribe: Millettieae
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Genus: Wisteria
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Species: W. sinensis
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Binomial name
Wisteria sinensis
(Sims) DC.
Trinomial name
Type Species

Wisteria sinensis (Chinese Wisteria) is a woody, deciduous, perennial climbing vine in the genus Wisteria, native to China in the provinces of Guangxi, Guizhou, Hebei, Henan, Hubei, Shaanxi, and Yunnan. While this plant is a climbing vine, it can be trained into a tree-like shape, usually with a wavy trunk and a flattened top.

It can grow 20-30 m long over supporting trees by counter-clockwise-twining stems. The leaves are shiny, green, pinnately compound, 10-30 cm in length, with 9-13 oblong leaflets that are each 2-6 cm long. The flowers are white, violet, or blue, produced on 15-20 cm racemes in spring, usually reaching their peak in mid-May. The flowers on each raceme open simultaneously before the foliage has expanded, and have a distinctive fragrance similar to that of grapes. Though it has shorter racemes than Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria), it often has a higher quantity of racemes. The fruit is a flattened, brown, velvety, bean-like pod 5-10 cm long with thick disk-like seeds around 1 cm in diameter spaced evenly inside; they mature in summer and crack and twist open to release the seeds; the empty pods often persist until winter. However seed production is often low, and most regenerative growth occurs through layering and suckering. One very interesting fact about this plant is that it is actually a member of the pea family, and the abovementioned seedpods are actually legumes.

It is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9, and prefers moist soils. It is considered shade tolerant, but will flower only when exposed to partial or full sun. It will also flower only after passing from juvenile to adult stage, a transition that may take many years. It can live for over 100 years.

All parts of the plant contain a glycoside called wisterin which is toxic and if ingested and may cause nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, and diarrhea. Wisterias have caused poisoning in children of many countries, producing mild to severe gastroenteritis.

It was introduced from China to Europe and North America in 1816 and has secured a place as one of the most popular flowering vines for home gardens due to its flowering habit. It has however become an invasive species in some areas of the eastern United States where the climate closely matches that of China.

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