Native Alternative to Invasive Imported Wisteria

Wild wisteria climbing up trees
Wild wisteria climbing 50-foot hemlock trees.

In the spring, wisteria bursts into bloom along roadways and arbors, reminding me that yes, spring never fails to deliver its promise, and wow – this stuff is taking over the world! Some types of wisteria may be beautiful, but they’re considered invasive species and should be grown with caution (if at all).

If you love the lush beauty of wisteria, the native American species is a great alternative that gives you all the glory without so much of the worry.

Asian wisteria blooms
Chinese and Japanese wisterias are beautiful but invasive.

Chinese and Japanese Wisteria

Chinese and Japanese wisterias (Wisteria sinensis and Wisteria floribunda) are spectacular spring-blooming vines, with elegantly twisting trunks and an absolutely breathtaking show of pendulous lavender or pink flowers in the spring. When you think of wisteria, you probably think of these types, draping their foot-long blossoms from high tree branches and growing wild along the highways.

They’re just gorgeous. However, when these non-native vines are introduced into American forests (often accidentally by well-meaning gardeners), they quickly spread and begin the troubling work of blocking light and water, creating dense thickets, interfering with the growth of new saplings, and even pulling large trees down with their heavy, woody stems.

While Chinese and Japanese wisterias are considered invasive species, it’s still possible to buy them, and it’s also tempting to grab a cutting or sprout from a naturalized vine. However, unless you plan to be extra diligent in training and controlling your wisteria, you may want to think twice about bringing it into your yard.

American wisteria in bloom
Less invasive native American wisteria in bloom.

American Wisteria Is the Native Choice

As an alternative, consider growing the less invasive American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). Native to eastern North America, this beautiful vine is every bit as spectacular, with slightly smaller blooms that sometimes repeat in the fall. However, it’s less invasive than its Asian cousins and much less likely to get out of control.

The easiest way to identify American wisteria is by the blooms. While Asian species have elongated blossoms with loose dripping petals, the blooms of American wisteria are shorter, rounder, and more compact (rather pinecone shaped). While the flowers of American wisteria are less aromatic than Asian wisteria, they’re just as beautiful! You can also identify American wisteria by its smooth seed pods, compared with the fuzzy seed pots of Chinese and Japanese species.

When planting American wisteria, don’t be fooled by it being considered “non-invasive” – American wisteria is plenty aggressive, quickly covering arbors and growing to dramatic heights in the trees. In addition, it’s faster to establish and more cold tolerant than Asian wisteria. American wisteria is native to southeastern wetlands, where it grows in partial sun.

Wisteria Fact

Did you know that different species of wisteria vines twine in different directions? Chinese wisteria twines counterclockwise, while American and Japanese species climb clockwise.

How to Grow American Wisteria

Follow these tips when growing American wisteria in your yard:

    Clockwise twining wisteria vines
    Clockwise twining wisteria vines.

  • Water: Because it’s native to wetlands, wisteria may need a little irrigation during dry spells.
  • Use Trellis: Keep wisteria under control by training it to a trellis or arbor, rather than allowing it to grow up trees.
  • Gently Tie: Wisterias climb by twining (rather than clinging), so they may need to be gently tied to the trellis until they grow around it.
  • Keep Pruned: Any vine can run out of control if it’s not tended. Keep wisteria trained to its designated spot, and remove any sprouts or tendrils that stray into neighboring trees or bushes.

Further Information