Well, another busy weekend. I may have overdone it, but I’m lying low today with a time out for refueling.
Fortunately, my energy reserves didn’t run out before we enjoyed the Sierra Madre Wistaria Festival, where we gasped in delight at the sight of one of the seven horticultural wonders of the world.
No, not this guy! He was just a bonus for us. This Sulcata, probably ten years older than our Darwin, must have wanted his share of attention and escaped from the home across the street. He was wedged under the bumper of the car. From what we could see of his size, the question is, What are we in for?
But on to the vine!
In 1894, Alice Brugman rode by horse and buggy to the R.H. Wilson Pioneer Nursery in nearby Monrovia, purchasing a gallon can of Wistaria for $.75. It was the Chinese variety (Wisteria sinensis), originating from seeds brought from China by Marco Polo in the 13th century.
Mrs. Brugman sold the home in 1906, and the new owners, Henry and Estelle Fennell, took an avid interest in the vine’s health. Mr. Fennell’s keen interest in horticulture probably contributed to the incredible growth. Arbors and trellises protected the terminal buds from dying due to added weight, and in combination with good drainage from the terraced location, it grew until its weight finally destroyed the original home, collapsing the roof.
Carrie Ida Lawless purchased the vine property in 1936, spending a small fortune, $100,000, to enhance the grounds and take care of the vine, which by then showed signs of distress. When she died in 1942, she left a financial legacy to her heir, nephew Bruce McGill, to continue to care for the property with a committee headed by the Garden Club.
The Guinness Book of World Records named the vine the World’s Largest Flowering Plant. At its height of bloom it has an estimated 1.5 million blossoms with 40 blossoms per square foot, weighing 250 tons with branches extending 500 feet. The original property was subdivided long ago and the vine is now maintained on two directly adjoining properties, covering one full acre.
Plants cultivated in China can live for 250 years and this Sierra Madre wonder is maintained by experts from a variety of universities and local horticulturists assisting in proper pruning, hormone and Vitamin B treatments, and computerized record keeping.
The vine has drawn crowds of admirers for decades. At one time Easter sunrise services were among the activities and when blooming, additional street cars were necessary as people came from all over the world just to see this amazing beauty.
Norman Rockwell and Mary Pickford were known to have an interest in the vine, once helping select the festival’s Wistaria Queen.
It’s impossible to showcase the vine in its entirety. And I can’t give you even a slight hint at the overwhelming fragrance of the wistaria blossoms. Heavenly!
The wistaria vine has been named one of the seven horticultural wonders of the world, sharing honors with the gardens of Buckingham Palace, the California Sequoia National Park redwood forests, Brazil’s Amazon tropical jungle, India’s Taj Mahal gardens, Japan’s Yokohama rock gardens, and Mexico’s Xochimilco floating gardens.
Now that was a surprise!
And what about the spelling?
The Sunset Western Garden Book lists the spelling as wisteria. However, Sierra Madre has always spelled it wistaria.
Experts at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden maintain the plant was named to honor Caspar Wistar (1761-1818), an American physician and teacher from the University of Pennsylvania responsible for writing the first anatomy textbook.
When the name of the genus Wisteria was put into the book it was incorrectly transcribed.
The spelling is of little importance when standing under the canopy in awe of the visual beauty and stunning fragrance. If you plan a trip to Southern California you might want to consider coordinating with the annual Sierra Madre Wistaria Festival.
I’m so tempted to go out and purchase a wistaria vine, but after seeing what it might entail for future generations, I’m concerned. I’m already leaving my descendants a Sulcata Tortoise of impending weight and responsibility. I’d better be careful.