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TREES & plants

American wisteria

Flowers of American wisteria.

American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens; syn. Wistaria frutescens) is a woody vine that produces beautiful hanging clusters of purple flowers.  This species is native to North America.  It is a good alternate to the Japanese and Chinese wisterias that have become invasive in some areas.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name: 
Wisteria frutescens
All Common Names: 
American wisteria, American wistaria
Family (English): 
Pea
Family (Botanic): 
Fabaceae (formerly Leguminosae)
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Vine
Native Locale: 
  • Illinois, 
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing, 
  • Screen, 
  • Shade tree, 
  • Specimen
Size Range: 
  • Large plant (more than 24 inches)
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 5 (Chicago), 
  • Zone 6, 
  • Zone 7, 
  • Zone 8, 
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil, 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Season of Interest: 
  • Early summer, 
  • Mid summer, 
  • Late summer
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant, 
  • Purple, 
  • White
Shape or Form: 
  • Vining
Growth Rate: 
  • Moderate, 
  • Fast
More Information: 

Size and Method of Climbing

American wisteria can grow 20 to 30 feet long.  It is a twining vine.  Twining vines climb by twisting their stems or leaf stalks around a support.  This type of vine grows well on trellises, arbors, wires or chain-link fences.

Plant Care

Full sun is preferable, but this vine will also tolerate partial shade.  A moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil is best.  Avoid compaction.
Wisteria often do not produce flowers for the first 5 to 10 years.  To encourage flowering use nitrogen fertilizer sparingly and use a fertilizer that provides phosphorus (follow label directions).
Proper pruning will also encourage flowering.    After flowering, prune excess growth back to 6 inches.  These pruned stems will continue to grow.  In winter cut them again so that each stem has two to three buds left.  Proper pruning not only encourages flowering, but it also helps to manage size and shape of the vine.
Wisteria vines are heavy and require sturdy supports.

Disease, pests, and problems

None serious.

Disease, pests, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to North America, mostly in southern states.  Native to a few counties in Illinois.

Leaf description

The opposite leaves are pinnately compound, with 9 to 15 leaflets.

Flower description

Purple, pea-type flowers in dangling clusters.  The clusters are 5 to 6 inches long (shorter than those of Asian species).  Mild fragrance.  Flowers are produced in mid-summer.

Fruit description

Fruit are similar in appearance to pea pods.  Seeds are poisonous to eat (as are other parts of the plant).

Cultivars and their differences

Alba American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens 'Alba'):  White flowers.

Amethyst Falls American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls'):  Lilac flowers.  Flowers produced at a younger age (2 to 3 years old).

Nivea American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens 'Nivea'):  White flowers.

Wisteria frutescens or American wisteria