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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - June 25, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Plant Identification, Vines
Title: Distinguishing non-native Wisteria from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

How do I distinguish a native wisteria from a non-native wisteria?

ANSWER:

About the best we can do is direct you to our Native Plant Database webpage on Wisteria frutescens (American wisteria). which is native to North America and East Texas. Even though it doesn't grow naturally in Central Texas, it is growing on some of the trellises in the Homeowner's Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. From our Image Gallery, below are some pictures of the native plant.

From our webpage, here are the distinguishing characteristics of the native:

"Shiny, dark-green, pinnately compound leaves bear 9-15 leaflets which are opposite on the leaf stem, with 1 leaflet at the tip. The flowers are in large, drooping clusters 6–9 inches long that appear after the plant has leafed out, a difference from the popular Asian species."

Next, we'll try to find some similar characteristics to compare from the non-native wisterias:

University of Connecticut Wisteria floribunda

  • odd, pinnately compound leaves
  • leaves contain 13 to 19 leaflets
  • leaflets are 10" to 15" long
  • leaf arrangement is alternate
  • young leaves are silky pubescent
  • leaf color is bright green
  • emerging leaves may be red-tinged

Invasives.org Wisteria sinensis

"Chinese wisteria is a deciduous woody vine capable of growing to a height of 40 ft. (12.2 m). Stems can be up to 10 in. (25.4 cm) in diameter with smooth, gray-brown bark. Alternate, pinnately compound (7-13 leaflets) leaves are tapered at the tip with wavy edges. Leaflets are approximately 3 in. (7.6 cm) in length. Lavender, purple or white flowers are fragrant, very showy and abundant and occur in long, dangling clusters in the spring. Seeds are contained in flattened, hairy, 6 in. (15.2 cm) long, bean-like pods. Invasions often occur around previous plantings. Chinese wisteria can displace native vegetation and kill trees and shrubs by girdling them. The vine has the ability to change the structure of a forest by killing trees and altering the light availability to the forest floor. A native of China, it was first introduced into the United States in 1816 for ornamental purposes."

Bottom Line: Buy only plants that are native, with the name Wisteria frutescens (American wisteria) on them.

 

From the Image Gallery


American wisteria
Wisteria frutescens

American wisteria
Wisteria frutescens

American wisteria
Wisteria frutescens

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