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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / The World’s Largest Flowering Plant Speaks Out on the Correct Spelling of “Wistaria”

The World’s Largest Flowering Plant Speaks Out on the Correct Spelling of “Wistaria”

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– Courtesy photo

Wistaria plant to the world: “Deal with it.”

(Please note – The Wistaria plant is not a happy camper even on his best day. Anything we have gotten from him in the past has always been irascible and snarky. He also drinks a lot, and doesn’t seem to care who knows it, either. I’m afraid today’s article is more of the same. Perhaps it is the drought. We’re going to print this anyway, but I’ll warn you, the World’s Largest Flowering Plant is not a very decorous plant. He is merely large our apologies).

The World’s Largest Flowering Plant speaks out: I cannot believe that two former Sierra Madre Mayors do not know the origin of the spelling of “Wistaria.” You know the one that is only used here in Sierra Madre. I find this to be quite upsetting and inexcusable, and the time to set the record straight is now. The answer is actually quite simple. It is because “Wistaria” is the correct way of spelling it.

Here is how these rotating Mayors completely screwed this up in the Pasadena Star News a few years back.

“Mayor John Harabedian and Mayor Pro Tem John Capoccia noted that the city spells it Wistaria with an ‘a’ instead of the more common ‘e’ simply because that’s how it’s become known. We’re proud of our history and tradition,” said Capoccia. “The festival is a good opportunity to show people what Sierra Madre is all about.”

Former Mayors Capoccia and Harabedian are profoundly wrong here. This is hardly a quaint local eccentricity committed for no other good reason except to lure overly credulous people from the 210 Freeway and remove some money from their pockets. I am not a roadside attraction, nor is this the 1950’s.

Here is how the Oxford University Press and their New Dictionary of Eponyms explains the actual reason for the spelling “Wistaria.”

The wisteria is a climbing woody vine clustered with drooping, pea-like, purplish or white flowers. The name of this vine was given by Thomas Nuttal, curator of Harvard’s Botanical Garden, who made an error in spelling the name of the man he planned to honor. That man’s name was Wistar. But at the death of the honoree in 1818, the plant was named wisteria. Nuttal wrote in his General North American Plants II, “In memory of Caspar Wistar, M.D., late professor of Anatomy in the University of Pennsylvania.” But too late, Nuttal had already named the plant wisteria. Later writers followed the error, thus perpetuating it.

With the notable exception of these two errant political figures, Sierra Madre has this one right, and has all along. The correct spelling is Wistaria. It is the rest of the world that is wrong. And as any Sierra Madrean will tell you, this is hardly the first time that has happened.

Please, for the love of all that lives and breathes, get this right.


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