The Wistaria Vine
World Record …. For years I had heard about the Wistaria Festival in Sierra Madre and the old vine that it was named after. However, I had never seen the plant or even knew what all commotion was about. This year I decided to spend a hazy afternoon finding out for myself just what Wistaria was all about. And boy was I surprised! Located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, in the quaint town of Sierra Madre, lives one of the Seven Horticultural Wonders of the World. It takes two private residences on West Carter Avenue in Sierra Madre to house the beautiful and vast Wistaria Vine. The vine is estimated to weigh 250 tons, and has branches that extend to 500 feet. At its peak, the vine grew to cover nearly one acre in overhead coverage. Originally purchased in 1894 by Alice Brugman from a one gallon container purchased for seventy-five cents, the vine was planted because of its fast growth. In 1906, Brugman sold the home and in 1913 Henry and Estelle Fennel purchased the property. Fennel was somewhat of a horticulturist and loved his Wistaria Vine so much that he built a series of support trellises to sustain the vines growth. The elevated support structure allowed the Wistaria to grow at an accelerated rate and the blooms were allowed to hang over the edges of the Arbor rather than accumulate and increase in weight. However, the vine’s rapid growth rate grew into the house’s walls, fireplace and structure causing the roof to collapse from the excessive weight. The home was knocked down and a new one was rebuilt to the North of the destroyed home, but this time the vine was trained not to extend toward the house but rather over the support trellises. When the Wistaria was in full bloom, the Fennels invited their friends over to sit and admire the beauty of the Wistaria. In 1918, the Fennels allowed the local Red Cross to use their home for a fundraiser to support the war effort and over 12,000 people attended the event. This was the first event which later evolved into the annual Wistaria Festival. Later on, the vine was used as a back drop for Easter Sunrise services and over 30,000 people attended the event. Celebrities like Janet Leigh, Mary Pickford and Norman Rockwell were in attendance. Over the years, the property was sold to new owners but each owner continued to care and manage the massive vine. During this time, property was split and sold, and the vine was now located on two separate properties. Even when it looked like the vine was in danger of not being maintained or being removed, the community stepped up and raised funds to support and protect the vine for generations to come. The Guinness Book of World Records named the Vine the world’s largest flowering plant. It is estimated at the height of the bloom season, the Wistaria Vine will have over 1.5 million blooms. I’m told that this year was an extremely bountiful year and indeed all those who viewed the Wistaria Vine will understand why it is one of the Seven Horticultural Wonders of the World….