Wisteria

In the courtyard of Chateau Maidment grows a wisteria. It is a rather spindly specimen, but one which has continued to grow, be pruned and cared for. It has, however, in the four and half years that I have lived here, steadfastly refused to flower. This year it has relented and produced a very few sprays of flowers.

Wisteria

There is a disagreement about the name of the plant, and even its proper spelling. Some say that it was named in honour of Caspar Wistar, a noted USA physician and anatomist, and that the name should be Wistaria. Others say that the name is in honour of Charles Jones Wister Snr., who lived in the marvellously named Grumblethorpe, a house in Germantown, Philadelphia. The spelling Wisteria is the one enshrined in the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature. I don’t know if the “Wistarians” pronounce the word [wɪˈsteəriə], but it would be shame not to call it [wɪˈstɪəriə], I think, because that would decrease the number of rhymes for hysteria.

3 thoughts on “Wisteria

  1. hi

    enjoyed your blog entry on wisteria today…nice way to wake up. i planted the beans from a pod of the wisteria from grumblethorp this spring and it has started to grow. it NEVER occurred to me that wisteria and wistar were related….thank you for that information.

  2. No, even if the “Wistarians” don’t call it [wɪˈstɪəriə] it would not necessarily decrease the number of rhymes for hysteria, as so many AmE speakers say [hɪˈstɛriə] for that, and pronounce ‘wistaria’ [wɪˈstɛriə]!

    But astonishingly, some dictionaries do give [wɪˈstɪəriə] or [wɪˈstɪriə] (sound file and all, cf e.g. Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 1997) as a possible pronunciation of ‘wistaria’, and some of the “Wistarians” may use that, and THAT would be a shame because it would decrease the number of rhymes for [hɪˈstɛriə]!

    As for the spelling, my guess is that ‘wistaria’ [wɪˈstɛriə] was the original, and was misspelt ‘wisteria’ by analogy with ‘hysteria’ [hɪˈstɛriə] etc, and that misspelling (and by analogy the original spelling) then mispronounced [wɪˈstɪriə] etc by analogy with ‘hysteria’ [hɪˈstɪriə]!! Sorry about all these exclamation marks, but I’m not sure there shouldn’t have been three there!

    Coz I don’t really think there’s much doubt about the eponymy of it. Most sources are less ambiguous about it than your Wikipedia reference, saying e.g. “NL. So named after Caspar Wistar, an American anatomist… Now commonly spelled Wisteria”. The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the -e- was apparently a misprint. Hm. I would prefer “apparently a misspelling”.

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