From Bud to Bloom

Emerging between February’s freeze and March’s bluebonnet extravaganza, wisterias brightened our landscape considerably.

This American Wisteria (Wisteria frutenscens), a Texas native with fragrant purple flowers, covered a chain-link fence in the nearby town of Dickinson. A member of the pea family, the shape of its opening buds makes clear its relationship to other early bloomers in the Fabaceae, such as Mountain Laurel and various wild indigos.

A bit farther down the road, at the Buddhist temple in Santa Fe, white wisteria covered an archway. While the native Texas species sometimes produces white flowers, I suspect this to be a form of Japanese wisteria: Wisteria floribunda. Although listed as a noxious weed in many states — the Missouri Botanical Garden has a firm “DO NOT Plant!” notice on its site — careful pruning had confined this beauty to a single area of the garden, where it was busy delighting the bees.


Comments always are welcome.

78 thoughts on “From Bud to Bloom

    1. There’s no question that the people who maintain the temple grounds know what they’re doing. The white wisteria branches up and over one pathway, and it’s really lovely. It’s quite a contrast to our native wisteria, which can climb tens of feet into the air, and grow so large that its fragrance can be detected from a fair distance.

  1. Floribunda sounds like it could be the name of a heroine in one of Wagner’s operas. Japanese wisteria, like Japanese honeysuckle, is no hero to native plant lovers in America, as you pointed out.

    The Texas mountain laurels in Austin this year never got to flower. The one I know near home has looked dead since mid-February. Whether it will revive remains to be seen.

    1. There’s only one woman who should play the role of a Wagnerian Floribunda: Florence Foster Jenkins. What an evening that would be.

      Another Japanese invasive that’s become problematic down here is Japanese climbing fern. It’s a lacy, pretty thing, but it grows like kudzu, and seems to be as determined as wisteria and honeysuckle to take over the world.

      When I was in Cost, the mountain laurel next to the highway monument was putting on significant new growth. As long as the plants survive, the lost blooms aren’t the worst thing in the world. It’ll be interesting to see how they come back next year: the huisache, too.

    1. They certainly made a dramatic appearance in our area this spring. I had no idea there were so many tucked away here and there — not only in yards, but also in uncleared lots and such. I found a huge stand of the purple along the banks of the Brazos River in East Columbia, but the bank was collapsing and there was no way to get a photo except from the middle of the river. Too bad there wasn’t a boat around.

  2. Wisteria can be invasive? I didn’t know that. I don’t see it around here, so I enjoyed your photos. No worries about it invading my garden this way.

    1. The native wisteria is what a friend calls “an enthusiastic grower,” but it can be tamed. I’ve seen it shaped into a tree with a single trunk, and I’ve seen it covering garden arches.Monet had them in his garden at Giverny; this combination of purple and whitefrom Giverny is marvelous. They have such a rich scent; I could sit under those forever.

  3. Apart from the fact that you present such an interesting range of plants, Linda, your photographs are second to none in their crispness and clarity. Your posts are always a visual delight. And those words you craft so artfully are not too shabby either!

    1. Such kind words, David ~ thank you. I was especially pleased to find wisteria blooming after the freeze. In the second photo, you can see damaged vine at the bottom, but it seems the plants hadn’t yet put on buds, so flowers appeared despite it all. I think of them as a sort of consolation prize for not having lilacs down here!

    1. The clusters of flowers drape beautifully, and the fragrance this year was remarkably strong. After our earliest flowers were killed in the freeze, it was great to see plants like wisteria blooming so prolifically; a lot of pollinators surely appreciated them.

    1. I learned after the freeze that wisteria flowers develop on old wood, so pruning back shouldn’t hurt next year’s bloom. Our gardening guru did suggest living with the raggedy-ness for a while, until it’s clear how much of the plant is damaged: then prune. We lost blooms from other plants this year, like mountain laurel and huisache. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next spring.

      1. The young couple that inherited the garden (as it came packaged with the house they bought) have neither the time (2 young boys) nor the inclination to tend to the garden. To wit, they turn on the automatic sprinklers for the lawn but not the garden. We’re glad that the previous owners don’t know what’s happened to their baby.

        1. It’s true that not everyone’s inclined toward gardening, and it does take time and energy. The good news about wisteria is that it doesn’t require babying, so you may be able to enjoy the one near you for a good while.

  4. wisteria is indestructible. there’s a lovely one on the fence between the shop yard and the neighbor, now in my sister’s care as it’s at the end of the fence where her house is. half of it is the darker purple and the other half is a lighter purple and more fragrant. I do love wisteria. back when we were still living in the city and my neighbor retired and moved to their lake property we bought their house. she told me that there was a wisteria in the front yard that she had cut down and kept mowed. she showed me where it was and I stopped mowing there, in fact I turned the whole front yard into a wildflower garden which most people loved, got lots of compliments, though some neighbors were not as delighted and at one point someone called the city on me. but no deed restrictions and no HOA so too bad. anyway, back to the wisteria. in no time it had resurged and was all over the fence and up in the crepe myrtle nearby. when I was very small my mother had one in the front yard that she had pruned into a small tree shape.

    1. I just mentioned to another commenter that I’ve seen them pruned to resemble a tree. There’s one not far from here that almost looks like a purple fountain with its central trunk and all those flowers hanging down. It’s amazing that yours rebounded so quickly, but as you say, they seem to be indestructible. I look for them every year, but I’ve never seen as many flowering as I did after the freeze. There were a lot of happy people inhaling their scent.

      Your tale of fussy neighbors brought to mind a friend who lived in Bellaire. She had been encouraging wildflowers in her front yard, and sure enough, the people-in-charge showed up at her door to suggest she mow. The Bellaire Code includes a provision that plants over 9″ high will be considered a nuisance. My friend pointed out that the city was encouraging native plants, hers were busy going to seed, and she’d deal with them once those seeds were produced. Flummoxed, the people-in-charge left. If only it always were so easy.

    1. Only the Japanese are noxious. The native ones are considered invasive because of their eagerness to take over the landscape, but they can be controlled. They do make great cover for fences and such, just because they are such fast growers.

    1. Well, you have lilacs and we don’t! People call the crape myrtle ‘Southern lilac,’ but I’ve yet to meet a crape myrtle with a pretty scent. The wisterias have scent to spare, and it was pure pleasure to have them to enjoy this spring.

  5. That shot of the wisteria blooms does resemble mountain laurel. Our mountain laurels, like Steve’s in Austin, didn’t bloom this year. The mountain laurels on our property were damaged by the freeze, but it looks like they all made it through the cold. I thought the smallest one was a goner for sure, but it’s put out new growth recently.

    Your mention of the Buddhist temple reminded me that I wanted to check out the temple in Pipe Creek. I’ve only seen the sign but it doesn’t look very far down the dirt road when I check out the satellite view.

    1. I heard the same thing from my Kerrville friend: no blooms, but plenty of new growth once the plants got over the shock of it all. I confess I was surprised by the richness of this year’s wisteria bloom, but I was just as surprised by how well other plants did — almost as though they were as eager to get past winter as we were.

      Have you seen the portraits hung inside the temple? If you visit, I’d be interested in knowing the story of the couple. They look more like they belong in the nearby Presbyterian church , but I suspect their portrait’s there for a reason. I read that it’s rather like a mission; people come over from San Antonio to staff the place — or at least they did.

    1. Only the Japanese is noxious. American wisteria can get out of control, but it doesn’t do the same kind of harm. Of course, a gardener faced with an out-of-control wisteria might consider it obnoxious, but that’s something different!

      Speaking of out of control, I hope your Monkey’s doing better by now.

  6. Nice set of photos. I love watching the process of a flower: the early, usually green buds; the glimpse of color; the opening and visits by pollinators (hopefully!); the development of the seed. All so interesting and beautiful. Lovely shots, Linda!

    1. It’s not going to be long before we’re in full summer, and the summer plants’ processes will be unfolding. This afternoon, along a road where I couldn’t stop because of construction, I’m just sure I spotted four prickly pear in bloom; it’s hard to mistake that yellow for anything else. If I don’t hurry up, I’ll be posting my spring photos in 2022 — it’s hard to keep up with these plants!

    1. I’m learning to appreciate cloudy days, Curt. Sometimes that softer light’s enough — it’s nature’s own filter. This is the first year I’ve really paid attention to wisteria’s details; it’s even prettier than I’d realized.

      1. I think the more experience we gain with photography, Linda, the more we learn to pay attention to all of the nuances of light. I’ve always though that wisteria is close to the perfect arbor plant. –Curt

    1. It’s funny that I’ve never associated wisteria with the west coast, and can’t remember seeing it during my years in Berkeley. It must have been there; my eye just wasn’t attuned to plants then. On the other hand, you’ll have lilacs in your new place, and if I were made to choose between the two, I suspect that lilacs would have the edge.

  7. I can see how wisteria might be considered an “invasive.” They can grow to be huge and really take things over. There’s a single plant in Sierra Madre, CA that covers more than an acre. But invasive or not, they sure are pretty when they’re in bloom.

    1. From a distance, those large groupings do seem to drip color. If I had a wisteria arbor, I’d be hard-pressed to leave it while the flowers were in bloom. I just searched out that Sierra Madre plant. Good heavens! What an irony that it eventually destroyed the house it was planted to decorate. It’s quite a different ‘treasure’ of the Sierra Madre.

    1. I’d not thought of that, but you’re right. And the sight of them hanging down from a garden arch or other kind of support is my favorite way to see them. When they’re just climbing up through the trees, the color’s obvious, but the shape can get lost. There are a couple of homes in the area where someone’s trained theirs to grow like a tree, with a single trunk and all those flowers hanging down. It’s gorgeous — like a purple fountain.

      1. I love their gnarled trunks too. Well, the trees I’ve seen locally are probably old (and have gnarled trunks).

        1. It seems that some species tend toward those gnarly trunks more than others, and that contributes as well as simple age and development. Apparently it’s fairly easy to shape them into a tree-like form, too. It takes time and patience, I suppose, but it can be done.

  8. Oh, the bees will be thrilled! (and we should be thrilled they are!) Lovely pictures – can almost smell that spring perfume. That white always looks so exotic and elegant – much different than the purple which grew everywhere when I was growing up. Those are spring around here!
    (I understand that do not plant…once it starts…the plant that ate the fence, swing set, house….)

    1. For thrilled bees, you should have been with me at Bell’s Landing in East Columbia the afternoon I discovered the wisteria-covered river bank. The flowers were everywhere, and the bumblebees were as thick as I’ve ever seen them. There are two reasons I didn’t get photos: the river bank was collapsing, and the bees sent me back to the car. I don’t usually mind bees, but discretion, valor, and all that.

      Just this morning, I discovered the wisteria that did ‘eat’ its house — and did it quite literally. Check out this California wisteria. It’s not Japanese, but Chinese — and it’s been thriving since 1894.

  9. Love that second photo, Linda, it’s so beautiful. While I’ve always loved the look of wisteria in bloom, I would never grow one as they are rather monstrous!
    I’m wondering if the white raceme you have pictured here was a vine or a tree? It looks like locust tree to me (Robinia). We have them growing down by the river and their blooms are equally sweet.

    1. As I recall, there were some trunks that had achieved small-tree diameter, but the flowers were hanging from an archway that spanned a path. In this case, the answer to the question — tree, or vine? — was ‘both,’ since the plants start as vines, but can be trained over time to be tree-like.

    1. They’re as fragrant as lilacs: a plant I miss in springtime. This year, because of their exuberant growth and their habit of producing flowers on old wood, they were everywhere, and so was their fragrance. One day, I got out of my car at a local business and caught their scent. It took some looking, but I finally found the source; a huge wisteria blooming behind the building. It was out of sight, but still a scent-sation.

  10. The wisteria vine is quite lovely if planted in a spot where it can grow and bloom in all of its elegance and beauty. I remember seeing it bloom many years ago in numerous yards all over town. But I don’t see that anymore. Your photos are beautiful.

    1. It does need to be tended, but where people care for it after planting, it’s one of spring’s true delights. I don’t see it in yards as often as I used to, except in smaller towns. I can’t help wondering if the HOAs around here have declared it off limits. They do have some strange rules.

  11. Lovely images of the progress of the flowers opening. It must be amazing to see (and smell) them where they’re abundant!

    1. Here’s something amazing, from Essex. As a gardener, you’ll surely appreciate both the woman’s skill and her patience. It’s been a few years since the bloom finally appeared, and I didn’t check to see what’s happened since, but I suspect that the plant needed a bit of a rest after producing all that.

      1. Wow! That must smell heavenly too. It’s not too far from us, so maybe I’ll get to see it some time!

  12. My parents planted a Chinese Wisteria years ago, which has taken over our old playhouse on posts. It’s beautiful but wow, pretty aggressive, and sends out runners every spring at least fifteen feet, trying to take over apple trees or anything else in its path. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any of the native varieties. Beautiful blooms in your pictures!

    1. You want to see what a really committed Chinese wisteria can do? Here you go. Your parents had best keep an eye on theirs. Today, it’s the playhouse. Tomorrow? It’s machetes for Christmas gifts. They do have gorgeous flowers, although I’d never paid much attention to the buds. My mistake!

    1. It’s a good choice for a favorite. It has color, form, and, best of all, that scent. Is it utilized in the gardens and parks you visit? I suppose places like the High Line would be cautious about it, but I can imagine it in Central Park.

    1. That’s a beautiful plant, and the color’s delightful. I looked at the Missouri Botanical Garden site and smiled at this: “It must be sited and trained only on sturdy structures which will be able to support the considerable weight of the mature vine.” That made me think of your new trellis — has the Clematis ‘jackmanii’ made an appearance yet?

    1. And not just flowers, Judy — that’s part of the appeal of Spanish moss for me, too. Another one I like is Columbine, although they’re not as dramatic as wisteria. I wish the wisteria had a longer bloom time; it seems to disappear entirely too soon. Still, I felt lucky this year that they bloomed at all after our freeze.

  13. Those last few photos remind me very much of the Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) that grow in abundance around old farmsteads in this area… They throw off suckers and scatter their seed pods with abandon, but all the bees love their blossom and apparently they make great fence posts (most likely why they were planted in the first place?; )
    Their bark is also a marvellous host for fabulous lichen colonies.

    1. The article you linked to was interesting. I noticed that the black locust also is a member of the Fabeaceae, and it certainly does resemble the wisteria. I’m wondering now whether some of the white flowers I’ve seen in east Texas woods might have been black locust rather than something else. A couple of articles mentioned that it’s escaped cultivation there, and spread into the woods.

      1. That would not surprise me at all Linda as that is what’s happened here. Unless grown in controlled circumstances, as a single specimen, Black Locust is quite likely to form thickets in the wild.

  14. I was given a single wisteria cutting quite a few years ago which is attempting now to take over the yard with all its runners. And for all that this may be our first year with blooms. There always seems to be a late frost that destroys the flowers but we are warmer this season and there are many buds enlarging. I hope ours are as lovely as those you’ve photographed. Love the curly cue in the second shot.

    1. I hope you get some flowers, too. The fragrance is so nice. We completely lost blooms on some plants this year, but the wisteria seems to have had it timed just right; their buds weren’t sufficiently developed to be harmed. That curlicue you like also is a consequence of the freeze. It’s the dead end of a vine. I recently learned that wisteria blooms on old wood, so that’s where those flowers in the photo were able to develop: above the frozen-back new growth.

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