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Wisteria vs Lilac: They Are So Different!

Today, let’s chat about two unique yet surprisingly similar plants: wisteria and lilac. They share quite a few traits, but also differ in many ways. These differences span from their looks to the ways we grow them and even their scientific classifications.

Wisteria and lilac are both beautiful flowering plants but have distinct differences. Wisteria, known for its cascading clusters of flowers, is a vigorous climbing vine, often growing on trellises or walls. It blooms in various shades of purple, blue, and white.

Lilac, on the other hand, is a bushy shrub with dense, fragrant flowers primarily in shades of purple and white. Lilacs have heart-shaped leaves, while wisteria leaves are feather-shaped.

In terms of cultivation, wisteria requires strong support for climbing and can take several years to bloom, whereas lilacs are easier to grow and bloom reliably every spring.

Wisteria vs Lilac

Wisteria and Lilac

Wisteria Lilac
Hardiness zone 4-9 3-8
Mature height 10-65′ (3-20 m) 6-15′ (1.8-4.5 m)
Mature width 3-30′ (1-10 m) 3-5′ (0.9-1.5 m)
Growth rate fast fast
Light exposure full sun full sun
Soil moist, drained moist, drained
Soil pH 6.1-7.0 6.3-6.9
Watering One time per week in a drought One time per week in a drought
Diseases fungus fungus
Pests insects insects

They have different blooms

Wisteria’s flowers hang in clusters, creating a stunning weeping effect, while lilac blooms reach upwards. The racemes of wisteria, like those of the ‘Alba’ variety with its 24-inch long white clusters, are notably longer than lilac’s. Lilac’s upward-extending blooms resemble hydrangea paniculata’s panicles, but they are shorter and less pointed.

Moving to individual flowers, wisteria’s are larger, making its blooming more dramatic. In contrast, lilacs pack more flowers into each inflorescence, resulting in a denser and more lush appearance.

The color range of lilacs is broader

Lilac boasts a broader color palette thanks to its many varieties. Most commonly found in purple, pink, or a mix of both, it also surprises with unique hues. Varieties like Miss Ellen Wilmott and Madame Lemoine have stunning snow-white blooms, while Primrose Lilac stands out with its light yellow flowers. There are even red lilacs, with Tinkerbelle, Prince Wolkonsky, and Ludwig Spaeth being notable examples.

Interestingly, there’s a blue variety named California Lilac, which, despite not being a true Syringa species, is still considered part of the lilac family.

Wisteria, in contrast, primarily offers shades of blue and purple-blue, such as the striking Blue Moon and Amethyst Falls. White wisteria exists but is less common, and varieties in red or yellow are not yet available.

Thus, for those seeking a range of color options, lilac presents a more diverse selection.

Wisteria has a longer blooming period

Wisteria generally enjoys a longer blooming period than lilac. While lilacs typically flower in late spring or early summer, with their bloom lasting about two weeks, some varieties have even shorter periods. For instance, the Miss Kim variety blooms for just ten days.

In contrast, wisteria flowers in early spring and can delight you with blooms for 3-4 weeks, offering both an earlier and longer display.

Another perk of wisteria is its potential for reblooming. Varieties like Wisteria Blue Moon are known to bloom up to three times in a season, including spring, midsummer, and late summer. Though some lilacs also rebloom, this characteristic is more prominent and frequent in wisteria.

Origin

Wisteria, a genus of climbing plants, encompasses ten species, with the most well-known being Wisteria floribunda (Japanese wisteria), Wisteria frutescens (American wisteria), Wisteria macrostachya (Kentucky wisteria), and Wisteria sinensis (Chinese wisteria). These species are primarily found in Asia and the United States, and over time, numerous ornamental varieties have been developed, enhancing their aesthetic appeal.

On the other hand, Syringa, the scientific name for lilac, comprises about 20 species of flowering trees. The exact count remains uncertain as botanists are still refining its taxonomy and discovering new species. Lilac exceeds wisteria not only in species count but also in its variety of over a dozen interspecific hybrids. This diversity results in a far greater range of forms and varieties in lilacs compared to wisterias.

Lilacs are predominantly found in the wild across Europe and East Asia. Among the most prevalent species are Syringa vulgaris (Common lilac), Syringa pubescens, and Syringa meyeri. This variety in species and hybrids marks a significant distinction between lilacs and wisterias.

Hardiness

Lilac is more resilient to cold weather and can thrive in zones 3 to 8. However, it doesn’t fare as well in the warmer southern climates, with zone 7 typically being the southernmost ideal zone for lilacs.

Wisteria, preferring warmer conditions, is best suited for zones 4 to 9. In colder regions like zone 4, the Wisteria Blue Moon variety is recommended, although it may still face challenges. Ideally, wisteria should be grown in zones 5 to 9 for optimal growth.

This information suggests that lilac is a great choice for gardeners in the central and northern states, while wisteria is more suited for those in the central to southern states.

They have different growth habits

Wisteria is a climbing plant, requiring support to ascend due to its lack of a central trunk. Its multiple slender trunks can’t bear much weight, leading wisteria to seek structures for climbing, potentially reaching up to 65 feet high.

In nurseries, wisteria is often trained into a single-stemmed tree form by intertwining its thin trunks. These cultivated trees usually grow up to 10 feet tall with a wide spread of 10-15 feet. However, the broader the canopy, the more support it needs.

Lilac doesn’t have a central trunk either, but its trunks are robust enough to support the weight of its leaves, branches, and flowers. As a result, lilac typically grows as a classic tree or a large bush.

Therefore, lilac resembles a tree or bush, while wisteria is distinctly vine-like. With patience and skill, wisteria can be transformed into a magnificent display, potentially surpassing the beauty of lilac.

Foliage

The foliage of wisteria and lilac differs significantly in appearance and structure, reflecting their unique characteristics.

Wisteria’s foliage consists of long, feather-like leaves known as pinnate leaves. Each leaf is made up of numerous small leaflets arranged on either side of a central stem, creating an elegant and delicate appearance. The leaves are typically light to medium green and can add a lush, soft texture to the plant’s overall look.

In contrast, lilac bushes feature heart-shaped, simple leaves. These leaves are broader and more solid compared to the delicate leaflets of wisteria. Lilac leaves are usually a rich green color, contributing to the dense, robust appearance of the bush. Their heart-shaped form adds to the charm and distinctiveness of the lilac, especially when not in bloom.

Thus, while wisteria’s foliage is characterized by its graceful, feathery leaflets, lilac’s foliage stands out with its heart-shaped, solid leaves, each offering a different appeal in garden design and aesthetics.

Wisteria is very aggressive

Chinese and Japanese wisteria varieties are known to be invasive in the United States, aggressively spreading and outcompeting native plants. American and Kentucky wisteria, while less invasive, can still be problematic.

It’s advisable to avoid planting any wisteria near buildings, as their vigorous growth allows them to infiltrate any small openings or cracks, potentially causing structural damage. Additionally, the support structure for wisteria needs to be robust to withstand its growth.

Regular pruning is essential to keep wisteria under control. Without it, the plant can quickly grow beyond what was intended.

Compared to wisteria, lilac is generally more manageable. It’s not as aggressive in its growth, making it a less troublesome option for gardeners.

Lilacs don’t like too much water

Both wisteria and lilac prefer to avoid overwatering, with lilac being particularly sensitive to excessive moisture.

For optimal lilac care, it’s recommended to water it no more than once a week during dry spells. Regular watering is mostly necessary only in the first 2-3 years after planting. After this period, lilac typically doesn’t need additional watering, except during unusually dry summers.

However, be cautious with watering, as overhydration or excessive rain can prevent lilac from blooming. The plant won’t die from too much water, but it won’t produce flowers. During prolonged rainy periods, there’s little that can be done to mitigate this effect, and you might have to accept a year without lilac blooms.