Chinese Wisteria Plants

The Japanese and Americans, Too Lay Claim to This Magnificent Vine

Wisteria (image) is very popular. The vines are widely used in North America.
Wisteria is one of the most popular vines in North America. There are types native to Japan, China, and North America. David Beaulieu

Taxonomy of Chinese Wisteria Plants:

Taxonomy classifies Chinese wisteria as Wisteria sinensis.


Botanically-speaking, it is classified as a deciduous perennial. These vines are in the pea family. Indeed, after its flowers fade, it produces velvety seed pods that resemble pea-pods.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones:

These vines can be grown in zones 5-8.


All wisterias are stunning bloomers, bearing large, drooping clusters of fragrant flowers, most typically bluish-purple, lavender, or mauve in color.

Bloom time is usually in mid-spring to early summer. A few kinds bear white blooms, such as silky wisteria (Wisteria brachybotrys 'Shiro-kapitan'); Wisteria sinensis 'Alba' also bears white flowers. They are also rabbit-proof flowers (rabbits tend not to eat any part of this plant).

Chinese wisterias are twining climbers that can wind their way at least 25 feet up a support. Supports must be sturdy, because the mature vines are considerably heavy.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

Some types need full sun to flower, but the Chinese kind is more shade-tolerant. All varieties crave a rich, well-drained soil.

Landscaping Uses:

Chinese wisteria plants are such vigorous growers that it is not recommended that you let them climb up a porch or the side of your house. Instead, let them grow on a garden arbor away from the house. Such arbors, roofed by Chinese wisteria plants, are a perfect focal point for English cottage gardens.

Caveat About Growing This Vine:

In North America, Chinese wisteria plants are considered invasive plants. They are also mildly poisonous plants.

Alternate Spelling: "Wistaria" Vines:

For research purposes, note that, although the spelling I have used is the more popular, you will also find the spelling "wistaria" vines.

Indeed, the latter spelling is truer to the derivation of the word, which comes from the name, "Caspar Wistar," a U.S. anatomist. For instance, Sierra Madre, California holds an annual "Wistaria Festival" every March, during which visitors can view a vine that is 111 years old, weighs approximately 250 tons and bears over 1 million lavender blossoms.

Inducing the Vines to Blossom:

If you encounter the problem of inducing the vines to flower (a common problem), there are a number of techniques you can employ to encourage flowering. I discuss this subject in more detail in "Why Isn't My Wisteria Blooming?." But let me say briefly here that you can begin by changing the fertilizer that you use (a high-phosphorus fertilizer may encourage blooming). More importantly, adjust your pruning regimen. Ever hear the old expression (admittedly unpopular nowadays), "Spare the rod and spoil the child"? Well, that's kind of how it is with wisteria care, too: tough love (in the form of fearless pruning) may be the answer for getting your recalcitrant vine to flower.


A distinction needs to be made between Chinese wisteria vines (Wisteria sinensis) and Japanese wisteria vines (Wisteria floribunda), on the one hand, and American wisteria vines (Wisteria frutescens), on the other.

One problem with the Chinese and Japanese wisteria vines is waiting for a successful outcome with them -- that is, their flowering. Waiting for them to finally flower can be just too long a wait for some folks, although some growers report success in speeding up their flowering through rigorous pruning (see above). Chinese wisteria plants respond well to pruning, so there is no need to get fussy with your pruning.

An alternate solution to the long wait for flowering, if you can afford it, is to buy an older (and consequently more expensive) specimen from your nursery. If you shop for Chinese wisteria plants in late spring at nurseries, you can scout for vines already in bloom. Although Chinese wisteria plants tolerate shade, for best blooming grow them in a sunny area.

Another problem with Japanese and Chinese wisteria vines has already been mentioned: namely, their invasiveness.

You'd better be a hands-on gardener if you want to grow Chinese wisteria vines or Japanese wisteria vines. Be ruthless about keeping their growth checked through pruning or else, as powerful twining vines, they will girdle trees and kill them. In this respect, Chinese wisteria plants pose a danger similar to that of Oriental bittersweet vines. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), you need to prune them anyhow to encourage blooming, so there shouldn't be any temptation to let the vines grow beyond reasonable bounds.

If you live in North America, you may want to buy American wisteria vines, instead. Not only are the latter less invasive, but they also bloom faster, too. Japanese and Chinese wisteria plants are more frost-sensitive as well. American wisteria vines flower in lavender or mauve, and they will sometimes bloom again in September.

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