Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for American Wisteria - Wisteria frutescens   (L.) Poiret
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Members of Wisteria with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Fabales » Family Fabaceae
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Author(L.) Poiret
DistributionThroughout the southern 2/3rds of the Coastal Plain, north to Washington and Pitt counties. Also present along the eastern edge of the Piedmont, where likely native. The Mecklenburg County record is likely non-native, as might also be the Guilford County one. The few records for the southern Mountains (Cherokee and Swain counties) must surely be of W. frutescens var. macrostachya, as mapped by Weakley (2020) and considered by him as native. Those specimens need to be re-examined.

This is a Southern species found primarily on the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains to TX and AR. Plants found northward into the greater Mississippi Valley to southern IL, western VA, and western NC are var. macrostachya. Records for most of VA and northward are considered to be non-native occurrences.
AbundanceGenerally fairly common to frequent in the southern part of the Coastal Plain, but rare to uncommon in the central Coastal Plain counties. Quite rare in the lower Piedmont. The species is easily overlooked as a non-native species of Wisteria by most people.
HabitatThis species is found primarily along the borders of rivers and creeks, where often best seen from a boat/kayak/canoe. It also occurs in the interior of swamp forests and the edges of wet thickets. It sprawls over shrubs and other vegetation growing along the margins of bodies of water.
PhenologyBlooms in April and May; fruits from June to September.
IdentificationThis is a native, deciduous woody vine that grows to as long or high as 30 or more feet, but is more often seen twining over shrubs and small saplings up to about 10-15 feet high. It has much smaller leaflets than the non-native wisterias; these (9-15) grow only to about 1.5-2 inches long. The blue or violet-blue racemes of flowers are showy, though much less so than those of exotic species; they consist of tightly bunched flowers and the racemes are only about 3-4 inches long, instead of the very long and more open light violet or lavender flower clusters of exotic species.
Taxonomic CommentsKentucky Wisteria (W. macrostachya) is a taxon sometimes considered as a valid species, but it is often included within W. frutescens as var. macrostachya. It occurs in the Mississippi drainage, eastward to western VA and western NC. Weakley (2020) considers it as a valid taxon, and includes it within W. frutescens as a variety.

Other Common Name(s)Swamp Wisteria, Atlantic Wisteria
State RankS4
Global RankG5
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Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieFort Bragg, mesic slope above James Creek, 25 Apr 2010. HokePhoto_natural
Jason BrownWake Co., W.B. Umstead State Park. 2011-04-27 WakePhoto_natural
Jason BrownWake Co., W.B. Umstead State Park. 2011-04-27 WakePhoto_natural
Jason BrownWake Co., W.B. Umstead State Park. 2011-04-27 WakePhoto_natural
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