March 17, 2014

Photo Essay: Beware the World's Largest Flowering Plant (Updated for 2021)

It's not often that I would devote an entire post to one plant.

But this is no ordinary plant.

It's a flowering, monstrous, house-crushing plant.

Designated the largest flowering plant in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records...

...the wistaria (a.k.a. wisteria) plant of Sierra Madre grew so fast and so much that it devoured its owners' house in the 1930s.

The house has been rebuilt, and somehow, the current former owners managed to keep it under control enough to keep living there and open it up to annual tours.

Update 2021: The annual Sierra Madre Wistaria Festival was canceled in 2020 and 2021—but as of April 2021, organizers have promised that it will return in 2022. However, the house was sold to new owners also in April 2021—and have reportedly pruned the plant so heavily, it appears to observers to be a mere sliver of what it once was. 

Will it still qualify for the Guinness record? Will the new owners welcome visitors once again? Will there be anything to actually see? We don't know the answers to any of these questions. So, here continues my report from 2014. 

The canopy over the backyard is was so thick, it's dark under there—though it hasn't encompassed the entire property (yet).

The vibrant, flowering parts are the newer offshoots, held up by metal supports.

They've grown out of the original plant, their crawling vines having traveled across the property and taken root elsewhere.

At over 250 tons, covering more than one acre, with branches that grow to 500 feet and grow as quickly as one inch per hour...

...this thing is a behemoth unlike any other.

Nicknamed The Vine, this wisteria is of the Chinese lavender variety...

...originally purchased for 75 cents and planted in 1894.

Its oldest section forms a wall-like structure of intertwined branches by the back of the house...

...where the blossoms are a bit more feeble.

Annual tours — which have evolved into full-blown festivals — have been conducted since 1918.

As hungry as the younger branches are, with their robust blossoms, all people really want to see is the oldest part, which, in comparison, doesn't seem so impressive.

The Vine has encroached on the neighbors' houses as well, but no one seems to mind. It's a horticultural marvel that feels a bit dastardly, a little bit evil, not quite of this earth, but its current owners have managed to prune and trim it to keep it under control — for now.

But one day, as its woody climbing bones twist around whatever can support it, hysteria may ensue. It can overtake and choke out other native plant species, but what else? Maybe people too.

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