Chinese wisteria is a deciduous perennial vine with a twining growth habit. Like all members of the wisteria species, Chinese wisteria is a stunning bloomer, but unfortunately it is toxic and very invasive. As the name indicates, Chinese wisteria is native to China. It was introduced to the United States in the 1800s as an ornamental plant and escaped cultivation, taking over backyards and open spaces alike. The fact that it can live for more than 50 years adds to its pernicious nature.
What's more, wisteria is toxic to humans, and toxic to pets.
|Common Name||Chinese wisteria|
|Botanical Name||Wisteria sinensis|
|Plant Type||Perennial, vine|
|Mature Size||10–25 ft. long, 4–8 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Flower Color||Purple, white|
|Hardiness Zones||5–8 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
Chinese Wisteria Invasiveness
The vine has been reported as invasive in at least 19 states from Massachusetts to Illinois south to Texas. The vines of Chinese wisteria overgrow other vegetation, forming a thicket and depriving other plants of light and nutrients.
Chinese wisteria is an aggressive grower that twines around tree trunks, up to 25 feet and higher, eventually killing them by girdling and crushing them by its sheer weight. The vine spreads by rooting at each node and through its stolons (above-ground stems). While the seed pods are too large to be dispersed by birds and other wildlife, they can be water-dispersed in riparian areas and thus travel great distances.
Even when cut back severely, an established Chinese wisteria produces vigorous new growth. The vine is tough—it is cold-hardy, can even tolerate some shade, and withstand temporarily dry soil so it can grow in many locations.
What Does Chinese Wisteria Look Like?
Chinese wisteria is a deciduous woody vine with smooth gray-brown stems that are covered with fine white hairs. The vine twists counterclockwise and flowers in April or May before the leaves, which are alternate, appear on the vine. The flower racemes are 6 to 12 inches long and lavender to purple in color. The flowers are especially showy because they bloom at the same time on the racemes.
After the bloom, the vine develops large brown velvety seedpods that look like beans. The 4- to 6-inch seedpods often remain on the vine throughout the fall and into the winter.
How to Get Rid of Chinese Wisteria
Whichever method you apply to remove Chinese wisteria, it will likely take repeated treatments and persistence to fully eradicate it, as it is such a vigorous grower.
The mechanical method of removing wisteria is an option for a small to moderately sized vine, or when you do not want to use a chemical herbicide. It is labor-intensive and requires you to keep an eye on the plant all season long. Cut the vine at ground level early in the season and keep cutting any new shoots through the entire growing season until the fall. This will prevent the vine from developing flowers and seeds and eventually exhaust the plant although it may take another season.
To get rid of a large vine, start with a cut stem treatment. In the spring or summer, when the vine is actively growing, cut it close to the ground level and immediately brush the cut surface with a systemic herbicide concentrate such as glyphosate. New sprouts are likely to grow in a few weeks. Use a foliar application of glyphosate or another systemic broadleaf herbicide, taking care not to spray it on any surrounding plants. Repeat as necessary when new sprouts appear.
How to Tell the Difference Between Chinese Wisteria and American Wisteria
A few features set Chinese wisteria apart from American wisteria (W. frutescens), its non-invasive native counterpart. American wisteria has a less aggressive growth habit, it is smaller and matures sooner whereas Chinese wisteria can take a few years to start flowering.
The Asian wisteria species, both Chinese wisteria and Japanese wisteria, have long pendulous blossoms with loose dripping petals. American wisteria blooms are shorter, rounder, and more compact. American wisteria is less aromatic than Chinese wisteria.
Is it better to plant a Japanese wisteria than a Chinese wisteria?
Not really, both Chinese wisteria and Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda) are non-native plants and invasive; in fact, according to genetic studies, most wisterias that have escaped cultivation are hybrids of Chinese and Japanese wisteria. If you want to plant a wisteria, choose American wisteria (W. frutescens), or Kentucky wisteria (W. macrostachys).
Can Chinese wisteria grow indoors?
Chinese wisteria is commonly grown indoors as a miniature tree or bonsai plant that can reach up to two feet tall. It requires pruning and repotting to grow the way you want. It can produce miniature blooms under the right conditions, although it can take seven to 20 years before it reaches maturity and blossoms. It requires ample sun and frequent watering to keep it growing well. Keep this delicate plant away from drafts.
How fast does Chinese wisteria grow?
It can grow up to 10 feet per year.