by Francesco Vignoli

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Wisteria

Information and curiosity about the Wisteria

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The origin of Wisteria

The meaning of its name

Why the Wisteria wind and wrap in the direction they do?



The origin of Wisteria

The first wisteria was brought into Europe by an English man named Captain Welbank in 1816. Apparently one evening in May 1816, Captain Welbank was invited for dinner by a rich Chinese dealer from Guangzhou (Canton). The dinner party was held underneath a pergola covered by flowering wisteria, which the Chinese called Zi Teng 'blue vine'.

No European had ever seen such a similar beauty and Captain Welbank convinced the dealer to give him some seedlings which he took back to England as a present for his friend C. H. Turner, from Rooksnet, Surrey. Three years later, in 1819, the wisteria bloomed for the first time and from there on rapidly spread to many gardens throughout the old continent.
In Italy the Wisteria is known since 1840.

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The meaning of its name

The wisteria is often called, Glicine, Wistaria or of course Wisteria.
Three names seem to many for one plant alone but each name has its own story to tell.
In Greek, Glicine means 'sweet plant’. This name was given to a climbing plant which had been introduced from America at the beginning of the ‘700. This climbing plant was in fact the American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). When, a century later, Captain Welbank brought the wisteria, better known today as Wisteria sinensis, the botanist Nuttal didn't realise that the plant had already been classified and named. Therefore he decided to name it Wistaria after the German anatomy and anthropologist professor Kaspar Wistar.
This name when pronounced with an English accent became Wisteria and with this name it quickly spread and became known as such throughout many gardens in Europe. Despite the acknowledgment of the mistake the name remained Wisteria.
Only Latin countries such as Italy, Spain, and France have kept the original name 'Glycine'. However the Germans made up a beautiful name, 'Blaue regan' which means 'blue rain', and so with this it almost regained its origins, after all the Chinese had originally called it, 'Zi Ten', which of course means'blue vine'!

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Why the Wisteria wind and wrap in the direction they do?

Why do the branches of the wisteria native of China (Wisteria sinensis) wind and wrap from left to right in an anti-clockwise direction whereas the wisteria from Japan (Wisteria floribunda) twist and wind round in a clock-wise direction from right to left?

It is important to know that all climbing plants native of the northern hemisphere (north) wind and twist in an anti-clockwise direction and all of those native of the southern hemisphere (south) wind in a clockwise direction. It is the same direction of rotation we see when we pull the plug of a bath tub filled with water. In the north water will turn in an anti-clockwise direction and in the south it turns in the opposite (clock-wise) way. This phenomenon is caused by the earth's rotation.

Why then does the Japanese wisteria wind around in a clockwise direction when Japan is in the northern hemisphere (between 30° and 45° parallel to the earth)? - Because, some millions of years ago, Japan was in fact part of the southern hemisphere, but like a floating platform, it sailed across the earth's crust towards North at the speed of a couple of centimetres a year without ever sinking into the tropical or subtropical oceans until finally reached the moderate zone where it is now. The journey has been so slow that the plants had time to evolve and adapt to the different climate conditions.

This explains the great difference there is between the spontaneous Japanese flora in comparison to the Korean and Chinese ones. It also explains why there are so many earthquakes on that land, being the long journey still on going today! And the wisteria? In their DNA, there is obviously still something which tells them to move in that direction, even if they have been in the northern hemisphere for quite some time now!

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How a wisteria borns

Francesco Vignoli
Via Chiesina, 40 - Santomato - 51030 PISTOIA (Italy)
E-mail - Telefono/Fax 0573 479769 - P. IVA 01155230475