My War With Wisteria

Make no mistake: It’s war out there. Arduous, protracted war, in which prisoners are endured only if necessary, but their execution is preferred. In this witless zero sum game, sun and soil and water are the prizes, and brutal, single-minded purpose is the cost of pursuing them.

My name is Wisteria, and my goal is to cover every square inch of Earth.

Mind if I sidle in here underneath you for a spell?


Thankfully, wisteria won’t likely achieve its goal, but it will not be for lack of trying. To its no-doubt chagrin, it hasn’t (yet?) figured out how to survive and thrive in oceans or on tall chilly peaks, about which it remains ignorant. But here in the southeast, it knows all too much about surviving and thriving, having long since mastered the art of absorbing essential nutrients in great abundance after its major varieties were introduced as ornamental flowering vines from Asia in the early 1800s.

…sending out countless criss-crossing vines that form a checkerboard of prodigious strength and maddening complexity—an herbal garrison fortified to the proverbial nines against all that would do it harm.

Here, it bedecks trellises and pergolas that present in spring as Mother Nature’s pendulous breasts in a palate of bright colors, under which garden party guests gather round the punch bowl or newly beloveds recite their vows.

But elsewhere, it indiscriminately climbs trees and downspouts, garages and fences, outdoor sculptures and bird baths, showing no favor and seeking none but the support of a sturdy, stationary object it can wrap itself around and continue its outreach to the sky.

Left unchecked, it can eventually topple fences, crack foundations and strangle its host trees, depriving them of nutrients it keeps to itself in pursuing life and more life (which can stretch to 50 years and longer).

And perhaps most diabolically of all, it can grow a monumental root system that grows—and grows and grows—stealthily beneath the soil, sending out countless criss-crossing vines that form a checkerboard of prodigious strength and maddening complexity—an herbal garrison fortified to the proverbial nines against all that would do it harm.

Did the beauty and strength of wisteria deter me from trying to harm the living hell out of it the other day?


Did I succeed?



Part of the day’s bounty….


Wisteria vines are programmed not only to climb and keep on climbing, but down below, to get tight-packed into the soil and spread out like the world’s most many-legged spider. When they’re young and skinny, you can easily enough get under them and give a yank sufficient to begin pulling up the 5, 10, 20 feet they have traversed barely beneath the surface of grass or dirt.

There’s something inherently satisfying about this stage, like fishing a hairball or child’s rattle out of a stopped-up sink and feeling an almost visceral “Ahhhh…” as the water flows freely again.

But the pleasure is short-lived when you eventually grab hold of a mature vine, as you must if you are ever to do more than temporarily halt its cunning march. Once the vines reach about an inch (and many more) in diameter, they require considerable exertion on your part, very likely with an assist from a shovel or blunt end of an ax to get sufficiently under the vine to dislodge it from its tenacious clinging to the soil and its fellow crossing vines.

Grunting, sighing, pausing to catch some air and allow the dizziness to pass, your efforts, one hard-earned inch at a  time, initially suggest a reward might await.

So very naive of you.

Because then, almost invariably, you are brought up short with a thick, fibrous crossing vine running nearly perpendicular to yours and wedded so tightly that even getting it to yield a fraction of an inch to allow for clippers to get in between the vines requires a rest and recalculation.

Or right along with your vine crossing with another, it also forms a V to become two vines, heading on diagonals to different corners of the lot. (And crossing or V’ing maybe another 10 or 50 times before they get to those corners.)

For a while, you take to these developments with even more determination, throwing your entire body and being into it in pursuit of some magical, final, vine-busting blow.

This is when you realize how heavy with perspiration your shirt is, and how loudly and involuntarily you have been making desperate-sounding noises reminiscent of interior football linemen just after the ball is snapped.

Which is also when you decide the only sensible (and possible) course of action is to lean back against the garage, wait until your panting subsides, and consider how you are going to end the day’s labors with a modicum of grace that does not leave the yard a miasma of snipped and uprooted vines, pointing awkwardly at the sky from little dirt mounds, awaiting the ministrations of a competent attendant.


Because here’s the thing: Every time you think to restore order by snipping off a last remaining vine and patting down a little soil to give your efforts the patina of a logical and systematic stopping point for the day, you find another crossing vine, another V, another tangled, inscrutable mess between you and your goal-directed ways.

At which point you rant and despair and cry to the heavens, “Why me, Lord? Why me?”

But of course, you know the answer. You are engaged here in an age-old, colossal struggle for power, a fight (in some instances) to the death of one party or another to achieve dominion in nature.

For the wisteria, it’s about freedom to be, to exist at all.

That’s no small matter for a plant or any other living thing, though one could certainly argue wisteria goes to rather excessive lengths in comparison, say, to coleus, a seemingly very distant cousin in the plant world that politely folds up its leaves with fall’s first freeze and gives way to succeeding generations.

For all my wailing in the garden, it’s not my existence at stake here—only my and Mary’s aesthetic. It’s our desire not to behold off our back porch the veritable jungle of wisteria that greeted us upon our arrival at this property, and against which we have been whacking, snipping, axeing, heaving, hoeing and cursing since our arrival, having made plentiful progress to date but with oh, so very long still to go.

Having had its way with this patch of earth for at least the past 20 years, the wisteria is clearly now in retreat, stunned and chastened by new sheriffs in town, enforcing new ordinances which include a diversity, equity and inclusion clause allowing for other, less incursive and marauding life forms.

I can’t say I feel badly about that, because just like our giraffe friend pictured above (who used to get toppled by a light breeze but now remains stoutly upright through gales), if I were to pose immobile against a post or tree back there in what could still plausibly be called Wisteriaville, it wouldn’t think twice about wrapping itself around my ankles and proceeding up the rest of my body while also industriously pursuing its criss-crossing and V’ing work below to ensure I remain immobilized and impervious to uprooting.

And there I would remain, slowly returning to the soil, an inert, subdued host in the ultimate struggle that drives wisteria and all other living things on Planet Earth to just keep on going, an inch, an hour, a foot, a day at a time, as long as that time shall last.


And for the flip side, from tenacity to pure majesty…



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Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact:

Wisteria garden by Nick Kenrick, Wirral, UK

Wisteria vines and giraffe sculpture photos by Andrew Hidas

5 comments to My War With Wisteria

  • Harry  says:

    When I was a youngster, 8 or 9 or so, I began having the task of mowing the lawn. It wasn’t such a bad thing, at least my dad always had a self-propelled mower, but there was one part I hated. In our front yard, standing alone and massive, was this enormous clump of wisteria. I hated that bush. It always seemed to be in bloom, the flowers smelled bad (to me anyway), and it was always full of bees and wasps. I hated mowing around that thing and I swore I would never have one. And I have stayed true to that promise even though my wife has through the years come up with idea after idea for how we might use one. Nope. Once in a lifetime is more than enough for me.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I was somehow blessed to avoid those sufferings as a child, Harry, but I can readily understand and sympathize with how they would leave a mark. Here’s to your steadfastness over the years!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Then, on the other side of the coin, there is Connie Marcum Wong’s ”Winsome Wisteria” which extols its beauty and aroma, even transporting her, almost erotically, into a world of divine pleasure.

    Eden open your arms to grace
    Wisteria’s soft petaled blooms
    Draped stunningly about Spring’s face
    In shades of lavender like plumes.

    Your scent wafts heady in the breeze
    When racemes descend from above.
    Divine as the flowering trees
    Your sight captures my heart with love.

    Goddess Venus must be aware
    Of the glory that you bestow.
    Like dangling ringlets in Spring’s hair
    Wind sprinkles your petals below.

    When over the arbor you vine
    I’m deeply moved by your presence
    You loom aesthetically divine…
    Transporting me with your pleasance.

    Although wisteria is absent from my Southern abode, I faced a similar challenge with my neighbor’s bamboo tree whose roots had tunneled their way under my fence and around my sprinkler system’s PVC pipes, eventually transforming itself into a snake-like tumor on my beautiful Augustine grass. It had to be excised. I tried everything. My attempts at cutting through it with my shears failed. I tried digging it up with my shovel; it shattered the wooden shaft. I tried to decapitate it with a saw; it dulled the teeth. I even floated the idea of pouring gasoline on it and turning it into a flaming crème brûlée of sorts. However, the thought of turning my wooden fence into a wall of fire thankfully put that strategy to bed. Finally, I decided to dowse it with some muriatic acid, a powerful ingredient in my toolbox of swimming pool additives. By Jove, it worked. Bamboo roots have yet to rise. No phoenix thus far, and it’s been five years now. Be careful, though…muriatic acid can dissolve rock in oil production!

  • mary  says:

    Read: invasive, aromatic, inspiring (in a way) TENACIOUS.

    A centerpiece and landmark of lovely Duke Gardens is the pergola that overlooks their famous terraced beds. Chinese wisteria was planted to adorn the pergola in 1938, and it took its job very seriously until 2014 when it had gotten so big and tangled that the metal structure was endangered and the vine itself was no longer blooming vigorously. The decision to remove it created a huge change for long time garden visitors, but it was replaced with a native, non- invasive variety which, now nine years on, is doing well.

    In the Spring I encountered a garden worker in the pergola, carefully tending to the new vine in efforts for it not to suffer the same fate as its predecessor. We conversed about the TENACITY of this plant and our labors to control it in our garden (some of oldest of the vines when we moved in were as big as my thigh!).
    I asked did he have thoughts on the matter? He then echoed the reluctant but resigned sentiment of every master gardener I have approached on this subject.

    “I regretfully have only two words for you” he said. “Chemical intervention.”

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Robert, your war on many fronts against wisteria recalled my own in my previous California home, with my entire back fence fronted by a bamboo wall probably 25 feet high and hell-bent on replicating itself along the side fences as well, stealthily tunneling along until shooting up one day far from its home base. Fortunately, it turned out to be a type that nurseries could actually sell, so much to my relief, they dug it up and carted it off in one long day, though I remained on active duty for several years afterwards quashing its many attempts to revive itself. Beautiful in small contained pots as the nursery intended to sell it, though!

    Mary, another friend echoed your garden worker’s sentiments on chemical intervention, and also mentioned another line of defense he employs against wisteria and other invasive plants: his machete. Something in his voice told me he perhaps looked on it a little too fondly, but I certainly understood the hint of pleasurable vengeance he was none too successfully concealing….

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