Signs spring is returning to the South: dead armadillos on the side of the road, a thick coat of pollen on the car a day after it’s been washed and the arrival of mosquitoes so big that if you slap them they return the favor.
Actually, a simpler way to know spring is here is sighting wisteria in bloom, its blue-purple flowers a vivid contrast to the green of pine trees or newly flowered plants.
Wisteria is a woody climbing bine native to the Eastern US, China, Korea and Japan. (A bine is a plant that climbs by its shoots growing in a helix around a support, where a vines uses tendrils.)
American wisteria tends to first bloom in March and by early April can be seen throughout the South.
American wisteria can grow up to 50 feet long, producing dense clusters of flowers on stalks 2 to 6 inches long.
It is very fragrant plant, putting off a rich lavender-like scent that can be detected hundreds of feet away if you’re downwind from a substantial stand.
Wisteria, not unlike vines, is at its best when it has a tree, wall or other supporting structure to assist with upward movement. In the South, wisteria is often seen in stands of trees, around abandoned structures or growing along old fences.
The flowering season for American wisteria is relatively short; by the end of May, at least in South Carolina, the bluish-purple flowers will be gone and all that will remain will be long snaking stems, green leaves and pods that hold the seeds of future wisteria beauty.
(Top: Tree overgrown with wisteria. Below: wisteria growing along picket fence.)