One of my favorite plants in our yard is a large wisteria that wends its way through and around our back deck. Planted in the early 2008 this woody, non-native climbing vine was slow to flower. Although a hardy, fast-growing plant, wisteria usually doesn’t produce flowers until it establishes itself and matures so it was a few years before the first blooms appeared in May of 2011, the image on the left. The center image is from May, 2013 and the image on the right is from the same perspective but in May of 2017.

In early May, before most of the foliage leafs out, the flowers will begin to open, starting at the base and gradually working towards the tip. The 6-12” long drooping racemes of wisteria bloom from basal buds on last year’s growth of wood. It will continue to bloom through the summer when it has full sun and well-drained soil.



Wisteria vines can become very heavy and need a strong structure such as a trellis, arbor, pergola, or in our case, a deck to provide support. The twining of the stems can be used to identify the species, depending on whether they twine clockwise or counter-clockwise when viewed from above. Our wisteria twines counter-clockwise so it is a Wisteria sinensis, Chinese wisteria. Wisteria that twines clockwise is Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria.

I usually prune it in the early spring when I also give it a low nitrogen-fertilizer. If it sends out unruly new growth during the spring and summer I just break them off by hand. Likewise, with any adventitious shoots that appear at the base of the plant. It’s a low-maintenance plant otherwise with practically no pests or diseases. The bees and other pollinators love it and I saw a hummingbird visiting it this week. One of the few pests that are ever on it are Japanese beetles.


As you can see by the oval white egg on the surface of its green thorax this beetle has been parasitized by a tachinid fly, Istocheta aldrichi. These tiny flies attach a solitary egg to the Japanese beetle. It will hatch a week later and then the tiny larvae will burrow its way into the body to feed. The larvae will consume the beetle from the inside causing its ultimate death, exiting the body to pupate. If you see a Japanese beetle with one of these eggs on it, let it be. It is already on death row and the new fly that it is nourishing will go on to parasitize other beetles in the future.

As I walked past the wisteria earlier this week I noticed bees among its beautiful pendulous violet flowers. I took out my phone to get a picture and as I focused on the buzzing bee I noticed how the individual blooms of wisteria are so like the blossoms of the different beans in the vegetable garden.

Bee on wisteria bloom.jpg

Like bean and pea flowers, the blossoms of wisteria are zygomorphic. ‘Zygomorphic’ means that the flower is only symmetrical when divided along one axis, in this case vertically, unlike the radial symmetry of a flower such as a daisy which is the same on either axis. Clockwise from the top these are the blossoms of a wisteria , a purple sugar snap pea, a pole bean, and a yard-long bean.

Wisteria and beans share many traits with the almost 18,000 other species in the Fabaceae family, also known as Leguminosae, making it the third largest family of flowering plants. Grown world-wide, this group contains trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs that bear fruit called legumes. Many legumes are grown to eat, such as the edible pods of freshly-picked snow and sugar peas and beans, the edible seeds of peas and peanuts, or dried pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, beans, and lupin.

I never connected the ornamental lupin, Lupinus polyphyllus, that grow in our flower beds with the salty lupini beans, Lupinus albus, that accompany many antipasto platters. But when you look at the seed pods of an herbaceous lupin the similarity to other legume seed pods becomes apparent. The images are, clockwise from the upper left, wisteria, lupin, purple snow pea, sugar snap peas, and yard-long beans.

Fun fact about another legume: in a method called geocarpy, the seed pods of peanuts develop underground. This gives rise to its other moniker, the groundnut. Post-fertilization, the yellowish-orange peanut bloom sends out a ‘peg’ that grows down to the soil where the ovary at the tip matures into a peanut seed pod.  Like most other legumes, peanuts have nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia in their root nodules. This capacity to take inert atmospheric nitrogen from the soil means legumes require less nitrogen fertilizer. When the plants die they can improve soil fertility for future crops by releasing that fixed nitrogen.

Scarlet runner beans blossoms

Scarlet runner beans

Any home gardener can benefit from growing legumes, whether they enjoy the beautiful blooms, the healthful benefits derived from eating these high protein and fiber foods or to enrich their garden soil for future plantings.

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center, 2018

All images by Susan Pelton


The incredibly variable weather this spring has definitely been challenging for many woody plants. The extremely early warm weather that forced premature growth in many plants was tailed by late hard frosts. This resulted in freeze damage in some plants. Non- native plants were most severely impacted by these conditions. I was ecstatic to see the extremely invasive, Japanese knotweed Polygonum cuspidatum quite heavily zapped by the late May frost. It has since recovered.

Two wonderful, native, woody plants, unfazed by our capricious climate, are currently flowering prolifically:
The Tulip Tree Liriodendron tulipifera is a member of the Magnolia Family Magnoliaceae and one of our tallest (to 150 feet) and most beautiful native hardwood trees. The tulip trees are in full flower, which you might miss unless you look up into the tree to find them. Their stunning orange- yellow flowers, set off by glossy, star-shaped leaves are too often overlooked, as they are usually way above our heads.

Tulip Tree Flower

The wood is highly valued for use in furniture and framing construction. The tree is a significant source of food for wildlife, as food and habitat for bees and a stately shade tree for large areas. It ranges throughout the Eastern United States from southern New England, west to southern Ontario and Michigan, and south to north-central Florida and Louisiana.


Seed Pod

Look up at the tree in the fall too; seedpod of the Tulip Tree are quite spectacular.

Fringe tree Chionanthus virginicus a member of the olive family Oleaceae is a small tree (to 25 feet) with an upright rounded form. It produces showy, fragrant, pure white flowers, which are composed of strap-shaped petals. The flowers hang from a 4 to 8 inch stalk. Some folks think they appear beardlike hence the common name Old Man’s Beard. The genus name Chionanthus, means snow and flower. Beard, snow or fringe-like these flashy flowers put on a spectacular show for at least’s two weeks in the spring, flowering just after the native dogwood fade.
The native range is southern New England south to Florida and west to Texas.

Fringe Tree in flower

L Alexander

Ladybug Blog Winter Salt Damage on Woody Plants February 10, 2009

Last week on February 2, 2009 Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. This date for winter weather prognostication has its origin in both European folkloric traditions and the Christian celebration of Candlemas. Six more weeks of winter was to be expected if Candlemas day was sunny. The same weather pattern was predicted if a hibernating animal, initially a hedgehog, was frightened by its shadow. This belief was brought to this country by German settlers during the 18th Century. They adopted the groundhog for their predictions as there are no native hedgehogs.

Be it startled ground hogs or terrified hedgehogs, New Englanders can usually expect at least six more weeks of winter.


This winter has been especially trying, bringing us freezing temperatures and weekly snow storms since mid December. With the storms come the snow plows and deicers. Starting in the winter of 2006-2007, the State of Connecticut implemented a new snow and ice control program, an all-salt regime using sodium chloride in solid and liquid form, in combination with liquid calcium chloride. Unfortunately the de-icing salts used during the cleanup efforts to maintain ice-free roadways, driveways, and sidewalks can cause severe damage to woody trees and shrubs.


Woody plants growing along roadways or side walks may be impacted by direct contact of deicing salt spray and by chemical changes in the soil due to a build up of salt ions that accumulate in the soil and are eventually absorbed by the plant roots. Salt ions can injure plants at any time, but late winter applications may accumulate and be more damaging since there is less time for winter snow and precipitation to leach away the salts.


Salt damage increases with the plant’s proximity to the road and is more severe on the side of the tree or shrub facing the road. The chlorides ions in these salts can be absorbed by roots and leaves resulting in the accumulation of toxic levels. Salt damage symptoms include marginal scorch of leaves, tip burn and dieback of buds and stems, foliar browning or the death of entire leaves, needles or twigs. In addition plants weakened by excessive salt exposure can be more susceptible to disease and pest problems.


These are some methods that can be employed to remedy the impact of deicing salts on trees and shrubs:

Wash salt spray off plants with fresh water as soon as possible after salt exposure.

Flush out excess salts from the root zones. This can be done as soon as the ground is no longer frozen. Repeated applications may be necessary.

Construct a physical barrier made of plastic, burlap, or snow fencing , or a berm of soil between the pavement and the plants

Plant salt tolerant plants in high risk areas.

Maintain vigorous growth in plants.




Leaf scorch on maple

Leaf scorch on maple

Winter salt damage on white pine

Winter salt damage on white pine