Mega Vine: Sierra Madre’s Star Wistaria on View

Peek at one of California's most famous petal-makers.

Alysia Gray Painter

Early March may be famous for roaring in like a lion, or so the old saying goes, and for basketball lovers shoring up their March Madness predictions, lists, and friendly wagers.

But garden catalogs and ads dominate, too, since finer weather is on the way (lionine beginnings or not). What would you do, dear gardeners of Southern California, if, instead of a plot of petunias, you had to manage a flowering vine that's well over 250 tons? A plant that has weathered three centuries, and is thought to grow up to two feet a day?

It sounds like something out of a horticulturist's wildest daydream, and yet it is real, and in Sierra Madre. We speak of the town's famous-the-world-over wistaria vine -- that's wistaria with an "a" in the middle and not an "e" -- and its epic run from 1894, when it was just a baby wistaria in a wee pot, to today, when it lavishly drapes over two large backyards at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. 

"Two large backyards" would imply that the lookie-loos will never see this amazing, on-private-property vine, but lookie-loos, take heart: On Sunday, March 15 the backyards shall open up to the public, for free, as is annual tradition.

It's the only day of the year that the wistaria vine is open to public viewing.

Does the sweet town below the backyards throw a full-on street fair, complete with food booths and craft vendors, to honor its floral wonder? Sierra Madre most certainly does celebrate. Are there shuttles up to the vine, if you don't want to walk up the pleasant but semi-steep hill? There are, for a fee.

Has the wistaria vine made the Guinness Book of World Records? It has, as the world's largest blossoming plant.

Will you see changes in this flowering marvel, year to year? Well, that's a tricky one, and a question that depends on how eagle-eyed you are. The vine, regardless of the state of its blooms (much dependent on winter rainfall), always seems prodigiously full, a purple roof through which a little bit of sunshine streams.

If you're a gardener, would you want such a famous plant in your charge? Many plant lovers would. So as those garden catalogs arrive, we say get to dreaming. Maybe in the year 2136 future people will be strolling through your backyard, admiring a giant vine you planted today.

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