Ask Ella: The Romance Of Wisteria
Ask Ella is a recurring Garden Collage feature where we ask our in-house florist, Ella Stavonsky, about floral design– including the history, origin, and maintenance that goes into some of the most intriguing flowers on the market today. This column is dedicated exclusively to common and rare varieties of flowers you’re likely to find at your local market. This week, we spotlight wisteria, whose draping blooms and romantic scent makes it a favorite at weddings (and not just those in England).
There is something positively irresistible about wisteria. Growing over trellises, its long flowers hang down, tinting the air with their scent, evoking quiet afternoons and leisurely walks through the English countryside or deep South. Though it can take a few years to establish itself, wisteria is a relatively easy plant to care for once it has grown– in fact, it often grows so well that it has become a pest in some parts of the United States, where it sometimes chokes out native species.
Wisteria is native to China, Japan, and the Eastern United States, having derived its name from the physician Caspar Wistar whose friend, Thomas Nuttall, was first to bequeath the namesake bloom. (Nuttall was a botanist who gave his name to many familiar species like Pacific dogwood, aka Cornus nuttallii.) Despite its medicinal heritage, wisteria has few healing properties; the seeds and bark are both poisonous, though some evidence suggests that the plant was used historically in China to treat tumors. Today, only wisteria petals find use in a variety of simple, tasty recipes, where they are used most often to add a dash of beauty and fragrance.
Wisteria is most often found out in the garden, climbing up walls or curling between latices– but it can also be a lovely addition to bouquets. Its draping lantern shape adds volume to larger arrangements, filling them out and imbuing them with scent.
Unfortunately, wisteria’s place is mostly in the garden– cut wisteria doesn’t survive very long, which is why you’re unlikely to see it at your local flower shop. Your best bet is to simply take a few clippings from the yard– otherwise, inquire with your florist, who may be able to source a few cuttings for special occasions.
Once you get your wisteria indoors, try smashing the stems as you do with lilacs (like lilacs, wisteria has a woodier stem) in order to increase hydration. We love pairing wisteria with smaller flowers in softer hues, like those of English cottage roses, or with muted greens, like that of eucalyptus. Between its shape and its smell, wisteria’s cascade adds an old-fashioned dramatic flare to any arrangement– one we always enjoy, even if it’s only for a little while.