bB Audrey Y. Scharmen
Many autumns past, a tornado swept across this point of land where I live on Mill Creek near Solomons. It snapped off the tops of big pines as if they were saplings. Ugly splintered trunks were left all along the lane, and for weeks the residents sawed and dug up stumps. However, one neighbor chose to leave the tall remains of a ragged stump standing in her yard. She planted a wisteria vine next to it, and the following spring it was engulfed in a drift of purple blossoms and graceful green tendrils. It was a highlight of the season that always left us neighbors a bit crazy. Some say, you know, that the scent of purple is hallucinogenic.
That is the way of the prolific wisteria, and so it was that a scraggly old loblolly was for many years after, a reigning beauty of spring on our lane. It was eventually felled by a callous 'dozer, but it is a legend still.
In one of John Burroughs' books, Ways of Nature, is an amazing account of the odyssey of a honeysuckle vine that found its way through a crack in the window of the naturalist's study one summer day. It crept about the sills and ventured finally into the center of the room where it "beckoned" (according to the author) for support. By late October, it had bridged three of the 10 feet between it and safety, before it fell to the floor. Burroughs believed it "knew there was a support somewhere near, and it tried all ways to find it."
It is a wonderfully eerie account of the stamina of a vine and the wiles of Nature. A touching tale. I think of it always when watching the wanderings of wild clematis and very old rambler roses.
Yes, we all are aware of the aggressive behavior of "bad" botanicals on the "wanted" lists, such outlaws as kudzu and honeysuckle. It is probably only a matter of time until wisteria, with her wandering ways and strangling tendencies, ends up on the post-office wall. But gosh, she is so beautiful.
Meanwhile I will continue to admire her as I travel the back roads of Bay Country in spring. In many parts of the rural south, her handiwork is remarkable along unlovely roads. She feeds hungrily on neglect, climbing in and out of derelict houses, festooning the sagging rooftops with billowing hillocks of purple petals. The vines seemingly snap up eyesores as soon as they appear. When spurned, she simply rambles aimlessly on through the woodlands in a wide wake of lavender.
Imagine the potential of such a vine: It could be the perfect solution to non-biodegradable roadside litter. Let's try turning it loose in a tire dump, or among the decaying cadavers of old cars that slumber beside our highways or crowd a neighbor's yard. Better still, let's train it to wander through all the abandoned strip malls of our suburbs.
Soon is the time of violets, lilac, paulownia and the incredible wisteria, the many hues of purple. But do not breathe too deeply of the powerful scent. It may be hazardous to your health.