Sierra Madre owner of world’s oldest wistaria vines does heavy pruning, sparking outcry

Nell and Bob Solt owned the wistaria vine home on Hermosa Avenue in Sierra Madre for some 47 years, before recently selling the property.

Nell Solt was always excited when the annual Wistaria Festival brought sight-seers through hers and her next door neighbors’ homes to view the now 127-year-old vine, recorded in the Guinness World Records book as the largest blossoming plant.

“It’s the cleaning that’s bad,” she told the Pasadena Star-News, of the purple blooms, in March 2015 ahead of that year’s festival. “The smell is wonderful. I’m very happy that people want to come.”

New owners at this home had the beloved Wistaria vine in Sierra Madre cut back this weekend alarming neighbors. A 1995 dedicated plaque calls the vine the world’s largest blooming plant by Guinness Book of World Records as seen on Monday, September 13, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

New owners at this home had the beloved Wistaria vine in Sierra Madre cut back this weekend alarming neighbors. A 1995 dedicated plaque calls the vine the world’s largest blooming plant by Guinness Book of World Records as seen on Monday, September 13, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

New owners at this home had the beloved wistaria vine in Sierra Madre cut back this weekend alarming neighbors. A 1995 dedicated plaque calls the vine the world’s largest blooming plant by Guinness Book of World Records as seen on Monday, September 13, 2021. (Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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The private residence turned over this year, with escrow closing in April, according to online real estate listing services. The new owners had some heavy trimming of the vine done this past weekend, with some residents on Facebook wondering what kind of person would do that.

Attempts to reach the new owners were unsuccessful.

Social media reaction

Sierra Madre residents took to NextDoor, Facebook and Twitter on Saturday to spread the news. Said one tweet: Anxiously awaiting more information about the rumored destruction of Sierra Madre’s landmark Wistaria Vine, one of the botanical wonders of the world, by the new owner of its house. The city may have really screwed up by not buying at a public resource.”

Anxiously awaiting more information about the rumored destruction of Sierra Madre’s landmark Wistaria Vine, one of the botanical wonders of the world, by the new owner of its house. The city may have really screwed up by not buying it as a public resource. https://t.co/GH95b3YbE3 pic.twitter.com/X5MSRU5euQ

— Esotouric’s Secret Los Angeles (@esotouric) September 12, 2021

The city, which uses the less common spelling for wistaria, features the purple-flowered vines in its city logo.

Susan Henderson, an executive with the local Chamber of Commerce, was bummed when word got out.

“It is heartbreaking that I have not seen what damage was done,” she said. “I have received tons of pictures, and it is heartbreaking that it appears that the vine will no longer qualify as part of the Guinness book of World Records based on the pictures that I have seen. I have not confirmed those pictures. They were just ones that were circulating Saturday.”

Not so fast

According to Sierra Madre City Clerk Laura Aguilar, it’s not as bad as all that, and the trimming has stopped.

“The new owners of the property on Hermosa did have some gardeners, some landscape people, out there trimming the wistaria vine on Saturday,” Aguilar said Monday. “The city was notified by some of the residents that there was a trimming company, and city staff went out to visit the property.”

According to Aguilar, many city employees live in the city, and residents know where some of them live, so it’s not unusual for them to get a knock on the door from a resident with an issue.

“The city staff asked the property owners to stop their trimming until it could be determined what, if any requirements, are needed before the vine could be trimmed,” Aguilar said. “It was a trimming, it wasn’t a removal. It was a trimming of the vine.”

Aguilar said the new owners noticed the vine hadn’t been trimmed in some time and was overgrown.

“They have concerns about the overgrowth, and they wanted to take care of the vine,” Aguilar said. “They were cooperative. As soon as we asked them to stop, they did.

“They maintain that they want to keep the vine there preserved; they were just trimming it for the overall maintenance and health of the vine,” said Aguilar, who is also the city’s public information officer.

Official review now planned

To avoid further issues, Aguilar said the owners have filed a design review application with the city with a request that the Planning Commission take a look at it.

“The homeowners have asked that we have the Planning Commission review it and not city staff, which is a more formal review than having it looked at at the city level,” Aguilar said. “And it actually takes longer.

Related links

Pasadena mansion lists for the first time since 1980, asking $6 million
Sierra Madre’s historic Wistaria vine to draw thousands this Sunday
What to know if you’re heading to Sierra Madre’s Wistaria Festival
More Sierra Madre news

“Because of their commitment to the community, they want to make sure there are no questions about the process.”

Aguilar said she knows of no city ordinance that would block the owners from trimming or chopping down the vine. Unlike oak trees, wistaria plants are not protected by state or local laws.

“There is not currently anything in the municipal code that will prevent them from doing that,” she said. “That is something that we can visit and the City Council can make a decision on. But the current residents have no desire to remove it, so I don’t believe that is a concern right now.”

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