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Wisteria floribunda (Willd.) DC.

Modern name

Wisteria floribunda (Willd.) DC.


Glycine floribunda Willd., a name founded on Dolichos polystachyos sens. Thunb., not L.f.

A deciduous climber to 30 ft or more high, its stems twining clockwise. Leaves 10 to 15 in. long, consisting usually of eleven to nineteen leaflets which are downy when young, soon almost or quite glabrous and of a glossy dark green, of ovate shape and 112 to 212 in. long. Racemes borne on short leafy shoots, normally 5 to 10 in. long, slender, the flowers opening successively from the base, each on a slightly downy stalk 12 to 1 in. long; they are (normally) violet- or purplish-blue and fragrant; standard petal 34 in. wide; calyx 13 in. long, bell-shaped, with triangular teeth. Pods 3 to 6 in. long, velvety.

Native of Japan, where it is common in the wild and known as ‘Fuji’ (sometimes transliterated as ‘Fudsi’). It is really very near to W. sinensis but with more numerous leaflets and with stems that twine clockwise, i.e., ascend from left to right towards the growing point. As seen in cultivation it also differs in the generally longer racemes and in flowering two or three weeks later. These cultivated forms are the product of many centuries of selection in the gardens of Japan and differ among themselves in length of raceme and colour of flower. Collectively they take the name W. floribunda f. macrobotrys (Neubert) Rehd. & Wils. There was a famous plant at the Kameido Shrine in Tokyo, illustrated and described by many travellers. It formed a huge arbour, extending partly over a piece of water spanned by a semicircular Japanese bridge. With its thousands of slender, pendulous racemes 3 to 4 ft long, crowded with lilac blossoms ‘odorous of honey and buzzing with bees’, it made, no doubt, one of the most famous floral exhibitions on the globe. Another remarkable plant grew at Ushijima, near Kasukabe, in the Tokyo area, where Wilson measured trusses over 5 ft long.

W. floribunda (in one or more of its cultivated forms) was introduced to Holland by Siebold in 1856, but seems to have attracted little notice at first, perhaps because it was slow to flower, or because it was wrongly pruned. The selection ‘Multijuga’, sent out by Van Houtte in the 1870s was the first to reach this country, but others came later in the century, most of them probably distributed by the Yokohama Nursery Company, through which so many Japanese garden plants reached the European trade.

W. floribunda, in its long-racemed garden forms, is not so well adapted for walls as W. sinensis; it should be trained in such a way as to allow the racemes to hang freely, as on overhead trellises. Where climbing space is not available, it can be treated as a bush. Two plants in the Kew collection have been treated like this for a century or so, and are still only about 8 ft high. The branches are spurred back every year, and produce an amazing profusion of racemes.

All forms of W. floribunda can be increased by layers, and by grafting twigs on pieces of its own roots in spring. Unlike W. sinensis, it produces fertile seed fairly regularly in this country. James Comber raised many seedlings at Nymans in Sussex, the best of which were the equal of the named sorts, and E. A. Bowles had a home-raised seedling in his garden at Myddelton House.

cv. ‘Alba’. – Flowers white, sometimes tinged with lilac; racemes rather shorter than in ‘Multijuga’. Very beautiful. There is also a white-flowered form with very long racemes, not free-flowering.

cv. ‘Coelestina’. – Flowers lavender-blue. Named by Sprenger, the Naples nurseryman, in 1911. This may be the form distributed by the Yokohama Nursery Company; see the note by Boehmer, the nursery manager, in Gard. Chron., Vol. 33 (1903), p. 347. Also with flowers of this shade is ‘Geisha’, mported from Japan by James Russell.

cv. ‘Multijuga’. – Standard pale violet with a yellow mark at the base; wings and keel violet blue. Racemes to about 2 ft long (W. multijuga Van Houtte, Flore des Serres, Vol. 19 (1873), t. 2002; W. chinensis var. multijuga (Van Houtte) Hook. f., Bot. Mag., t. 7522; W. floribunda f. macrobotrys (Neubert) Rehd. & Wils., in part only). Introduced to Kew from Van Houtte in 1874. The original plants still exist (see above). The name W. multijuga was at one time used in a general sense for all the known forms of W. floribunda.

cv. ‘Rosea’. – Standards pale rose, wings and keel purple. Racemes to about 18 in. long. In cultivation 1903.

cv. ‘Russelliana’. – Flowers darker than in ‘Multijuga’, marked with creamy blotches. Raised by Messrs L. R. Russell, then of Richmond, before 1904.

cv. ‘Violacea Plena’. – In this the flowers are lilac, but owing to the stamens becoming transformed into petals, they lose their pea-flower shape and become rosettes. This spoils rather than improves the flower, and the plant does not blossom so freely. Introduced from Japan to the USA in the 1860s and thence to Britain about 1870 (W. sinensis flore pleno Carr.; W. chinensis var. flore-pleno Bean; W. sinensis var. violaceo-plena Schneid.).

Under the name ‘Issai’, and also as W. floribunda praecox, Mr K. Wada, the Japanese plantsman, distributed several clones which are thought in all probability to be hybrids between this species and W. sinensis, in which case they would belong to W. × formosa. Two of the Wada clones have been further distributed by Dutch nurseries and are described by Mr H. J. Grootendorst in Dendroflora, No. 5 (1968). The clone described as ‘Issai’ simply has short racemes of lilac blue flowers very freely borne even on young plants; leaflets mostly thirteen. In ‘Issai Perfect’, also free-flowering, the trusses are somewhat longer (to 15 in. against 10 in. in ‘Issai’), more pointed at the end; leaflets fifteen. Both flower at the same time as W. sinensis. Both these clones twine clockwise as in W. floribunda. But some plants in the Arnold Arboretum received as ‘Issai’ twine anti-clockwise as in W. sinensis (D. Wyman, Shrubs and Vines for American Gardens (1969), p. 568).

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

Other clones of this species have been introduced recently from Japan and are available in commerce.



Other species in the genus