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A small genus of exceedingly ornamental climbers, represented in the eastern United States and in N.E. Asia. The leaves are alternate, deciduous, and unequally pinnate. Flowers in handsome axillary or terminal racemes, and mostly of a pale bluish lilac or white. Pods rather resembling those of kidney beans in shape. The genus was named in honour of Caspar Wistar, a professor of anatomy in the University of Pennsylvania in the early part of the 19th century. Nuttall, however, spelt the generic name ‘Wisteria’. This may have been a slip of the pen or printer’s error, but it is equally possible, indeed more likely, that he chose deliberately to spell it thus, on the grounds that this rendering accorded better with the way the Professor actually pronounced his surname, with a mute ‘a’. In any case, the name Wisteria, thus spelt, is conserved under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. It should be pronounced with a short ‘e’.
Wisterias are of easy cultivation, and quite hardy in the southern half of England. In some places to the north-east they should be grown on walls. They like a good loamy soil, but are not fastidious at the root; a sunny position, however, is essential. The only problem in connection with their culture is the provision of suitable support. For W. sinensis, walls and pergolas afford the best means of displaying its attractions, and for the display of the long racemes of W. floribunda ‘Multijuga’ an overhead trellis work is desirable. An arbour framed in iron will quickly be covered by either of these species, and as the branches twist round the rods any unsightliness is soon hidden.
Seeds are not frequently produced, and do not afford a reliable means of increase. But layering may be adopted, and shoots grafted in spring on pieces of root from the same species, or W. sinensis, unite readily under glass. Cuttings of August wood made of the lower part of the season’s shoots may also be tried.
A valuable note on the wisterias by Philip McMillan-Browse will be found in The Plantsman, Vol. 6(2), pp. 109-24 (1984).