Chinese Wisteria
Wisteria sinensis

How did it get here?

Chinese Wisteria range mapChinese wisteria was brought to the United States from China as an ornamental in 1816. It has long been planted in the Southeast as decoration for porches, gazebos, walls, and gardens. Horticulturists selected hardy varieties that could tolerate most soil and water conditions, which accounts for the plant's pervasiveness. Chinese wisteria is found extensively throughout the eastern United States.

How to spot

Chinese Wisteria illustration by Margret MuellerWisteria sinensis is a showy, woody vine that blooms in the spring (April–May). Its fragrant, violet-blue flowers hang in clusters from the stem. Velvety seedpods of 4 to 6 inches form from summer through fall. The vine’s compound leaves are 4 to 16 inches long, with seven to 13 leaflets that are oval or elliptical with pointed tips. Vines up to 15 inches in diameter twine counterclockwise around the trees they climb. The branches are few and alternate, and the bark is dark gray with light dots.

Habitat characteristics

  • Full sunlight and well-drained soils ideal.
  • Commonly infests roadsides and forest edges.

Life cycle

A member of the pea family, Chinese wisteria spreads by seed and by sending out runners and roots from its stems. Fruits and seeds form from July through November. The seedpods split along their sides and release one to eight flat, round seeds ½ inch to 1 inch in diameter.

Look-alikes and how to distinguish

  • Japanese wisteria (Wisteria florabunda)—compound leaves with 13 to 19 leaflets; twines clockwise as it climbs; also an invasive plant.
  • American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)—flowers in summer (June–August); hairless seedpods are 2 to 4 inches long.

Why is this plant a problem?

Chinese wisteria easily escapes landscape plantings and spreads aggressively into natural areas. Forming dense stands, it kills native shrubs and trees by strangling or shading them. The weight of vines can also topple large trees.

Management approaches

  • Chinese Wisteria - photo: Hand-pull plants and all of the roots to prevent re-sprouting.
  • Cut vines every few weeks from spring until autumn to exhaust root stores, curtail growth, and prevent seed production.
  • Treat cut stumps with herbicide and spray herbicide on foliage in large stands. Apply herbicides wisely: Contact your state agriculture department or county extension agent for information about appropriate pesticide choices, restrictions, and application instructions.

Alternative, native ornamentals

Your local native plant society can provide sources for these and other alternatives that offer beauty and attract native wildlife.

  • American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens)
  • Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)
  • Trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
  • Dutchman’s pipe (Aristolochia macrophylla)
  • Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)

Other resources

Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History
Article on wisteria

National Park Service
Fact sheet

Invasive and Exotic Species of North America
(University of Georgia and partners)
Biological information and photos

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