Riverdave’s Journal;

June 2, 2010

This year the invasive Asian vine known as Wisteria has outdone itself.  Her showy lavender blossoms hang voluptuously from the tangle of twisting branches all across our urban landscape.  Riotous and extravagant, uproarious and unrestrained, vibrant and exotic ... No sir, there is simply no other so imposing presence in our town this April as Wisteria.  

I have such a mixed reaction to this explosion of floral energy.  My first response is to surrender to the sway of it’s powerful fragrance and be thankful to have my senses rocked by this abrupt Spring in my face experience.  It reminds me of the bombing of the senses by the royal ponciana trees of the tropics.

But I have a personal history with Wisteria.  When I was a child, come April each year, my folks marched the family out in Easter attire to the Wisteria arbor at the stair tops above the cherubed fountains at Duke Gardens.  I chaffed under my white collar and tie posing for the staged photos next to my little sister. The whole experience carried tooooo much feminine energy for a small boy who had just been snatched away from his neighborhood pickup baseball game.

Fifty years later, I confess I still recoil when I think about that Wisteria.  But there is another reason to be concerned about the proliferation of this vine that crawls up and over one hundred foot trees and that will even cover a house or barn if left unchecked.  Often a spawling vine can be found near an old homestead or historic building.

Asian Wisteria was introduced in America in the 19th century as an ornamental planting and has since run amuck challenging indigenous plant communities. Its smothering blanket of compound leaves can completely overrun young trees and slowly cripple and then top mature trees, depriving the helpless hosts of sunlight.  In Durham, we have met our challenge with this invasive. .

Research carried out at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment suggests that under the influence of an enriched CO2 atmosphere, that will be a result of global warming, vines may respond faster than grasses, shrubs and trees with even extra vigor and growth. Thinking forward a bit, might our fair City of Medicine instead soon become the City of Wisteria ?

I personally shudder at the idea of an all out war against any of this planet’s faunal forms of life.  On the other hand, a population of any species must live in balance with its neighbor organisms with whom they share space. But any campaign to limit the expansion of so-called exotic invasives, must always keep in mind that humans are by far the most rapidly expanding and potentially overwhelming species of life that brings the pressure of planetary imbalance.  

So what do we do about this outrageous Asian Wisteria?  Seeing how we imported here it in the first pace, refusing to plant any more of it would be a starter.  Private property owners with Wisteria that is rapidly expanding beyond its original garden perimeter might decide to initiate a program of containment.  

Our Parks and Recreation Department could use this opportunity to educate the public in the proper care of our open space and trees  We could shrug off our indifference to this whole issue of floral invasives and dedicate ourselves to seeing our gardening planting and maintainance choices in terms of native Piedmont verses exotics, and then align our planting policies with the natives.  

Most importantly, it might be helpful to see our riotous human expansionism through the eyes of other species of life in our community.  If that insight helps us to contemplate and then moderate our own over consuming and expansive lifestyles, then this may be the most important lesson we learn from our experience with Asian Wisteria ...

By the time this essay appears in print our community’s Wisteria vines, having lost their Spring blossoms,  will have blended back into the shadows of the forest.  Few of us will hear the silent moanings and cries of our native oaks, maples and elms as many are slowly and insidiously strangled by this persistent and ever reaching exotic vine.  

Photo by Riverdave: Wisteria vine climbing up the wall of the West Point Park Environmental Education Center