Thursday, 14 May 2015

Wilma the Wisteria

Wisteria sinensis was formally introduced from China to Europe in 1816 by an English gentleman named Captain Welbank and has has since secured a place as one of the most popular flowering vines in gardens. Apparently, it was discovered when one evening, in May 1816 (almost 200 years ago this month), Welbank was invited for dinner by a rich Chinese merchant from Guangzhou. The party was held underneath a pergola covered in flowering Wisteria, which the Chinese called Zi Teng (blue vine).

Wilma - a work in progress
Not many people had at this time ever seen such thing and consequently Captain Welbank worked hard to convince the merchant to give him seedlings which he then took back to England as a present for his friend C. H. Turner. Three years later, in 1819, the Wisteria bloomed for the first time and from there on rapidly spread into many gardens, including my father's in sunny Bognor and our garden here in Belicena.

Here in Spain, Wisteria is called Glycine, which is from the Greek, 'glicine, meaning 'sweet plant'. This name stems from a plant that had been introduced from America and was in fact the first assigned to the plant. It was a whole century later, when Captain Welbank brought the plant to England, when the plant received its synonym by the botanist Nuttal, who didn't realise that the plant had already been described. Nuttal called the plant 'Wisteria' in honour of the German anatomist Kaspar Wistar. and despite it being a synonym, this is the name that is now recognised. 

Something of interest... 

Wisteria sinensis winds counter clockwise and Wisteria floribunda winds clockwise. This is great for us, as it helps to tell them apart, but it's a very odd phenomenon. Some people originally thought that this was a result of the fact that plants that are from the northern hemisphere always twist anti-clockwise, and those from the southern hemisphere twist clockwise. Of course, Japan is in the northern hemisphere, so this doesn't correlate. The theory was then further expanded upon to include the tectonic plate movements of Japan, as it was originally in the Southern hemisphere millions of years ago. 

Sadly though, this entire theory has been disproved. Plants are not effected at all by the Coriolis effect. Apparently, 92% of all vines in the world grow in a counter clockwise direction. Most botanists now wonder if this direction of twisting is caused by the left-handed bias of all biological molecules in nature, but we still don't really know...


  1. Great Jess
    Do I presume another commission - what a lucky sponsor.
    The wisteria on my pergola, is at it's best ever this year !!
    I look forward to seeing the finished picture

    1. This one isn't a commission - just something I have wanted to paint for a long time. Great to hear your Wisteria is looking good. Couldn't do me a favour could you? I need a flower so I can draw up a floral diagram... Are you able to pickle a couple of flowers for me?

    2. No problem - just a few flowers or the whole racemes ?

    3. A few flowers. If you wanted to have a go at doing a floral diagram before pickling that could also be really useful, but don't worry if you are busy. Thank you Chris - this is a major help, you are very kind. Kicking myself for not having done it over here. Too many projects on the go I think!

  2. Stop press Chris - the darn thing has come out into flower again... so I am ok. No need to pickle - thanks anyway though! x