Tuesday, March 27, 2012

That "grape soda" smell means wisteria

It's springtime in the Deep South, and the air smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheap-store-brands grape soda. Or maybe it smells more like year-old grape bubble gum, the wonky kind that nobody will even shoplift off the clearance rack at Big Lots.

Whatever sticky grape confection it smells like, that smell means wisteria, also known as the Other Vine That Ate the South. Say what you will about wisteria, but I always look forward to its glorious Pointillist creations draping the trees.

Greens, purples, lavenders, smokes...wisteria's got 'em all.
(LaGrange, Georgia—21 March 2012)

On my way home from work last week, I noticed a few drupes of wisteria blossoms here and there in the trees. "It's only March 15," I said to myself. "Naaah. It's just the warm weather freaking them out. They'll get nipped back by a late frost in a couple days." Wrong!

Beautiful, if a little underexposed due to an oncoming rainstorm.
(LaGrange, Georgia—21 March 2012)

This flower drupe is about 9" long. That's my hand, for comparison.
(LaGrange, Georgia—21 March 2012)

The unusually warm weather persisted, and so did the wisteria. In this case, it's wisteria sinensis, the particularly vigorous kind imported from China in the 1800s. People planted it for erosion control, sure, but also for its beautiful purple drupes. It's certainly beautiful in the garden as long as you keep it under control. Did I mention wisteria is highly invasive? Other than the fact it provides food for honeybees, wisteria doesn't have much going for it in a practical sense.

Once nobody's there to keep wisteria sinensis in check, it takes over. If you mean for anyplace to become a forgotten place, just follow these two simple steps:
  • Plant some wisteria.
  • Move.
Give it a few years, and voilĂ ! Nobody will know it ever existed. Just listen to the gardeners at Dave's Garden. They know of which they speak.

These 60-foot-tall trees in LaGrange, Georgia, are suffocating with Chinese wisteria. Some of these vines measure about 3" in diameter at the base. By my estimate, they've probably been there at least 50 years, perhaps more.

Shopping center parking lot next to wisteria-smothered trees.
(LaGrange, Georgia—21 March 2012)

The blossoms and scent are magnificent now. But in a couple weeks, the flowers will be long gone, and the wisteria foliage will have completely greened out. I'll drop by then and take a few photos to show you. I guarantee we won't even be able to see between the trees for the thick cover of wisteria leaves. 

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