Washington, D.C. is probably best known for its rich history, beautiful landmarks, and famous cherry blossoms. But there is another stunning bloom throughout the city in the spring that many people overlook – the wisteria!
Although DC is home to several varieties of wisteria, there is one variety that blooms in spectacular fashion each April at Dumbarton Oaks.
The wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks is a beautiful and iconic feature of the estate’s garden. It is believed to be over 80 years old and was likely planted by Mildred Bliss, one of the estate’s former owners.
Mildred Bliss and her husband, Robert Woods Bliss, purchased the Dumbarton Oaks estate in 1920 and began transforming the property into a magnificent garden. They traveled extensively, collecting plants and garden elements from around the world to incorporate into their design.
One of the plants they brought back to Dumbarton Oaks was a wisteria, which they planted near the Orangery in the 1930s. Over the years, the wisteria grew and spread, covering the Orangery’s walls and roof with its cascading purple flowers.
Today, the wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks is a beloved feature of the garden and attracts visitors from around the world. The estate is now a research institution and museum, and the wisteria continues to be cared for and maintained by its expert staff.
Dumbarton Oaks keeps careful records of all of their plants bloom cycles, which you can find on line when planning your trip to the garden. The wisteria typically blooms for several weeks in mid-April.
The wisteria at Dumbarton Oaks is commonly called “Chinese Wisteria” (Wisteria sinensis). It’s a deciduous, woody climbing vine that is native to China and is widely cultivated for its beautiful flowers. It is known for its fragrant, showy, cascading clusters of flowers that range in color from white to pink to purple, depending on the variety. Chinese Wisteria is a very vigorous and fast-growing plant, and it can become quite large and heavy over time, which is why it needs sturdy support structures, such as the walls of the Pebble Garden and roof of the Orangery at Dumbarton Oaks.
Chinese Wisteria has a long history of cultivation and has been grown in China for over a thousand years. It was first introduced to Europe in the 19th century, where it became a popular garden plant.
The plant was brought to the United States in the 1800s as an ornamental plant for gardens and parks. It quickly became popular due to its beautiful and fragrant flowers, and it was widely planted across the country. However, it was soon discovered that the plant could be very invasive and could easily take over and damage native ecosystems. Today, despite its incredible beauty, Chinese Wisteria is considered an invasive species in many parts of the United States and is classified as a noxious weed in some states.
Because of its invasive tendencies, Chinese Wisteria is well regulated in DC. In fact, Dumbarton Oaks has to regularly prune its giant Chinese Wisteria to prevent it from escaping the garden. So, you won’t find a lot of Chinese Wisteria outside historic gardens. But there are still plenty of other wisteria varieties throughout the city. If you want to learn more about this stunning plant, the National Arboretum, which is located in Washington, D.C., has a collection of wisteria plants, including Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) and American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).