Spiderwort, Tradescantia, for moist shade

Each flower lasts but a single day but we love Spiderworts anyway. They bloom for several weeks with each plant producing waves of new triangle-shaped flowers.

Tuck them near the trunks of trees and shrubs or between perennials in a flower bed where they can get a little sun and they will multiply from one year to the next. Being near the roots of larger plants not only gives them cover from too much sun, but the larger plants absorb extra moisture so the Spiderworts have moist but well-drained soil to grow in.

Spiderworts can grow in full sunlight to full shade and will move to suit themselves. As nearby shrubs increase in size, Spiderwort plants will pop up in other places.

Some gardeners plant Spiderworts in containers to prevent the plants from spreading too much throughout their gardens. It is also very easy to pull up and thin out the tiny plants during early spring garden cleanup in order to control their inclination to naturalize.

If you want to try them in full sun, be sure to water them regularly to prevent scorching. Half a day of sun seems to work the best in our area.

Each little flower is a perfect three-petaled jewel-tone color spot son top of a stem that can be 6 to 36-inches tall. The stems are soft and the leaves resemble lily leaves, giving them their other common name, Spider Lily. They are cold hardy from USDA zones 4 through 11, are drought and wet tolerant, deer resistant, easy to grow and tolerate black walnut trees.

The most common Spiderwort is the American native Tradescantia virginiana. Woodland spiderwort, Tradescantia ernestaniana, Ernest's spiderwort or Red Cloud is native to OK, AL, AR, and MO. It is less aggressive than Ohio spiderwort. Plants and seeds are available from Easy Wildflowers in MO (http://www.easywildflowers.com). Tharp’s Spiderwort, Tradescantia tharpii, is native from TX to KS.

Plant Woodland Spiderwort with other native woodland wildflowers like Columbine, Green Dragon, American Spikenard, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Goat's Beard, Wild Ginger, Wild Geranium, Virginia Bluebells, Woodland Phlox, Jacob's Ladder, ferns and other shade flowers.

When the flowers fade, cut the plants all the way down. New growth will appear and a second bloom season will come when the weather cools in the fall. Divide the clumps early in the fall or when the leaves emerge in the spring. If they go to seed and seedlings come up near the parent plants, they can be lifted and planted elsewhere.

The flowers attract butterflies from May to July and the seed heads attract gold finches. At the end of the bloom season the fading stems and leaves turn yellow so Spiderworts are usually planted in a natural area or where summer blooming flowers can hide them. Spider Lilies self-clean so they do not have to be deadheaded.

In addition to the natives, there are over 60 Tradescantia species.

Tradescantia pallida, commonly called Purple Queen, Purple Heart and Purple Spiderwort is primarily grown for its deep purple leaves since the tiny tri-corner pink blooms can barely be seen in a flower bed.

Tradescantia fluminensis, commonly called Creeping Christian or Wandering Jew is hardy in zones 7-9 and is often grown as a houseplant. A close relative, Tradescantia pallida purpurea, commonly called Purple Wandering Jew is also a great shade plant to grow as annuals under trees.

Tradescantia andersoniana Osprey is named for the bird of the same name. It has white flowers with blue stamen filaments (available from www.forestfarm.com). Other white flowering varieties include Bilberry Ice, Snowcap, Iris Prichard and Innocence (see http://www.marysplantfarm.com).

Spiderwort plants are not only edible and medicinal; they are also used by scientists to detect radiation fallout (http://bit.ly/dNX8DH).


Anonymous said…
My only criticism of the plant is how freely it reproduces. They are all over in my garden despite being pulled out last year.
Molly Day said…
Hi Donna - I've heard other people say that they are prolific spreaders but they are well-behaved here.
Maybe it's our weather, soil, or the overcrowded condition of the flower beds. They don't have a chance out there against all the other plants we've crowded all around them.

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