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Tradescantia (Spiderwort) – The Ultimate Care & Identification Guide

Think of all the colors in a rainbow – Tradescantia varieties cover the entire spectrum. Tradescantia is known as inch plants, spiderworts, speedy henry, variegated laurel, wandering trad, hairy stem, Indian plant, purple-heart, trinity flower, Moses in a  basket, wandering Jew, and others. Tradescantia is some of the world’s most popular and commonly grown houseplants.

Tradescantia is the second-largest genus in the Commelinaceae family, with 90 species with a natural habitat in Mexico and the southern United States. The genus is known for its back-to-back double-zig-zag (cincinnus) growth and three-petaled flowers, as also found in Callisia, Gibasis, and Tripogandra.

It will be helpful if you learn to use the scientific names approved by POWA (Plants of the World Online). As the global authority, a collaboration of the leading universities across the world, POWA recognizes 95 Tradescantia species if you include the eight variants.

Identification and Caring Snake Pla...
Identification and Caring Snake Plant

In total, there are 432 synonyms, but we’ll not venture there. Below are the 95 recognized species and variety names for the Tradescantia genus. In this article, we’ll review the ten most common species (in bold)

T. × andersonianaT. ambiguaT. andrieuxii
T. atlanticaT. bolivianaT. bracteata
T. brevifoliaT. buckleyiT. burchii
T. catharinensisT. cerinthoidesT. chrysophylla
T. cirriferaT. commelinoidesT. crassifolia
T. crassulaT. cymbispathaT. deficiens
T. edwardsianaT. ernestianaT. exaltata
T. fluminensisT. gentryiT. gigantea
T. gracillimaT. grantiiT. guiengolensis
T. gypsophilaT. hertweckiaeT. hirsuticaulis
T. hirsutifloraT. hirtaT. huehueteca
T. humilisT. insularisT. leiandra
T. llamasiiT. longipeT. masonii
T. maysillesiiT. mcvaughiiT. mirandae
T. monospermaT. multibracteataT. mundula
T. murilloaeT. nuevoleonensisT. occidentalis
T. occidentalis var. melantheraT. occidentalis var. occidentalisT. occidentalis var. scopulorum
T. ohiensisT. orchidophyllaT. ozarkana
T. pallidaT. pedicellataT. peninsularis
T. petiolarisT. petricolaT. pinetorum
T. plusianthaT. poelliaeT. praetermissa
T. pygmaeaT. reverchoniiT. roseolens
T. rozynskiiT. ruppiusT. schippii
T. schwirkowskianaT. serranaT. seubertiana 
T. sillamontanaT. soconuscanaT. spathacea
T. standleyiT. stenophyllaT. subacaulis
T. subasperaT. subaspera var. montanaT. subaspera var. subaspera
T. tenellaT. tepoxtlanaT. tharpii
T. tucumanensisT. umbraculiferaT. valida
T. velutinaT. virginianaT. wrightii
T. zanoniaT. zebrinaT. zebrina var. flocculosa
T. zebrina var. mollipilaT. zebrina var. zebrina.

Some cultivars or species require somewhat different care than others, but Tradescantia is a rather simple plant to cultivate inside or outside in the summer or warmer climes.

They’ll repay you with lovely foliage and occasional blooms that are as much a surprise as they are a joy as long as they get lots of extremely bright light and regular watering (without having them lie in moist soil for too long).

The following plants are only hardy outside in zones 9 to11, so protect them from frost and cold temperatures.

Some may also be considered invasive in certain areas, so please plant responsibly! Indoors, however, they’ll all bring you beauty and joy no matter what zone you live in.

Tradescantia X Andersoniana (Spiderwort)

Spiderwort is a hardy perennial belonging to the Commelinaceae (dayflower) family and prized for its colorful flowers and leaves. It is the most common Spiderwort in cultivation and is native to the northeastern United States.

Spiderwort gets its name from the stem discharge that occurs when the stem is severed. It hardens into a threadlike substance that resembles a spider’s web.

Many of these plants have blooms that open in the morning and shut in the afternoon when exposed to sunlight. If the weather is overcast, they may stay open later in the day or until the evening. It has strap-like leaves that are 12″ to 18″ long. The blooms are three-partited, and the stamens have spidery hairs.

Throughout the summer, spiderwort blooms for a long time. Extending the bloom duration is as simple as deadheading spent blooms.

The leaves will deteriorate, and flowering may cease entirely if planted in areas with hot summers. This is a reasonable opportunity to make drastic cuts.

Cutting the plant to the ground will result in fresh foliage and a late summer/fall bloom.

There are cultivars with varying heights, bloom sizes, and flower colors. As a houseplant, hanging basket, or patio plant, grow in a container. In the middle of the summer, the plant might become ugly in the landscape.

Potential Challenges

Snails and caterpillars can harm young shoots. Individual blossoms are only there for one day.

T. andersoniana Varieties & Cultivars

  • ‘Alba Major‘ – White flowers.
  • ‘Blushing Bride’ – Pink flowers, 6-12″ in height.
  • ‘Carmine Glow’ – Pink-purple flowers, height 12-18″.
  • ‘Charlotte’ – Light purple flowers.
  • ‘Concord Grape’ – Medium purple flowers, height 12-18″.
  • ‘Hawaiian Punch’ – Bright red-purple flowers, height 12-18″
  • ‘Innocence’ – White, off-white flowers, 18-24″ in height. Larger flowers.
  • ‘Leonora’ – Violet-blue flowers, 18-24″
  • ‘Little Doll’ – Miniature cultivar, light blue flowers, height 6-12″.
  • ‘Osprey’ – Light blue 18-24″ and White, off-white 24-36″.
  • ‘Perrine’s Pink’ – Bright pink-purple flowers, height 12-18′.
  • ‘Purple Dome’ – Purple flowers, 6-12″ tall.
  • ‘Purple Profusion’ – Medium purple flowers, 6-12″ in height.
  • ‘Purple Rebel’ – Light purple flowers.
  • ‘Red Cloud’ – Pink-purple flowers, height 12-18″.
  • ‘Rubra’ – Pink-purple to red-purple flowers, height 18-24″.
  • ‘Satin Doll’ – Miniature cultivar, pink-purple or red-purple flowers, height 6-12″.
  • ‘Snow Cap’ – White, off-white flowers, 18-24″ in height.
  • ‘Sweet Kate’ – Compact, clump-forming, purple/blue flowers.
  • ‘Valor’ – Pink-purple flowers, height 12-18″.
  • ‘Zwanenberg Blue’ – Blue-Violet blooms, 6-12″ tall

Tradescantia fluminensis (Giant White Inch Plant; Inch Plant; River Spiderwort; Small-Leaf Spiderwort; Speedy

Synonym: Tradescantia albiflora.

Quick Identification

  • Leaves are double-ranked, stems are trailing; sheaths closed
  • Paired bracts enclose flowers that each last a day
  • Green leaves with purplish undersides

Potential Challenges

It is classified as invasive species, noxious weed, or pest plant in many places. Australia, New Zealand, and the southern United States are among the worst-affected countries. Snails and caterpillars can harm young shoots.

T. fluminensis Varieties & Cultivars

  • ‘Albovittata’ – White stripes on the top, purple underneath
  • ‘Lilac’ – Lilac variegated leaves
  • ‘Tricolor’ – Pink, cream, and green leaves
  • ‘Variegata’ – Variegated green and cream leaves

Tradescantia Hirsuticaulis (Hairy Spiderwort, Hairy-Stem Spiderwort)

Hairy Spiderwort is a Commelinaceae perennial endemic to North Carolina. It’s not common, and you’re unlikely to see an area where they’re flourishing. It can be found in dry, open rocky woodlands, along bluffs, and around rock outcrops. It may be found in dry, rocky forests in the mid to southern states and the North Carolina mountains.

It is planted as a perennial evergreen in warmer areas, such as the Mediterranean, desert settings, and temperate or tropical climates. It will have a longer yearly life cycle in colder areas.

This plant may be cared for by mulching it to help it retain moisture. Give it the freedom to expand or crawl if you’re growing it as a perennial. Pruning can be done after the season’s flowering has ended.

Stem cuttings can be used to propagate the plant as long as at least three leaves are left on the cutting. Another approach is to bend a branch over and bury it with the earth, creating ideal rooting conditions.

Tradescantia ohiensis (Blue Jacket, Ohio Spiderwort, Smooth Spiderwort)

Synomyn: T. canaliculata; T. foliosa; T.incarnata; T. ohiensis var. foliosa; T. reflexa

Smooth Spiderwort is a clump-forming perennial native to Central and Eastern North America in the Commelinaceae (dayflower) family. The purple to rose-blue 3-petaled blooms of this native perennial grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet and a width of 2 feet. It may be found growing in meadows, along highways, and along woodland edges in the wild.

Each flower blooms for a single day, usually opening in the morning and shriveling when touched in the day’s heat. It has long grass-like leaves with a longitudinal fold or groove. It may be cultivated in the shade, although the blooms will be less plentiful than when planted in full sun. While it may grow in various soils, it will thrive in damp, sandy soil.

Cutting to a height of 6 to 12 inches in mid-summer might result in an autumn bloom and stimulate development. Because it is a self-seeding perennial, it may become weedy under the right conditions. offshoots can also disseminate it.

Potential Challenges

There are no major concerns. Clumps can grow to be fairly enormous, necessitating division. Snails occasionally harm this plant, and deer and bunnies nibble the leaves on occasion. Due to its propensity to spread, the foliage can become unsightly by mid-summer.

Tradescantia Pallida (Moses In The Basket, Purple Heart, Purple Queen, Purple Spiderwort)

Synonyms: Setcreasea pallida, S. pallida, and S. purpurea.

The stunning purple leaf of Tradescantia pallida, a fragile evergreen perennial native to northeast Mexico (from Tamaulipas to Yucatan), is planted as an ornamental.

Joseph Nelson Rose called it Setcreasea pallida in 1911, but D.R. Hunt of the Royal Botanic Garden Kew categorized it in the genus Tradescantia in 1975. S. pallida or S. purpurea is still a common name for this species.

On thick stalks, dark purple lance-shaped leaves up to 7″ long are produced alternately. The whitish hairs cover the fleshy leaves, which create a sheath around the stem.

The stems are rather delicate, and they will readily snap off if brushed or kicked too forcefully. In colder climates, it will die back to the ground in the winter but reappear in the spring from the roots.

The rambling plants grow to be approximately a foot tall but can spread out much more.

At the ends of the stalks, very small pink or pale purple blooms with vivid yellow stamens bloom from midsummer to fall and intermittently at other periods.

The flowers are 12″ in diameter and feature three petals, as is characteristic of this species.

The purple heart is a versatile plant that may be used as a ground cover, in baskets, as a trailer in mixed containers, or as a houseplant.

They’re best employed in large groups for in-ground plantings and spread swiftly. Purple leaves stand out against gold, chartreuse, or variegated foliage and work well with pink, light purple, or burgundy blooms on other plants.

Combine it with complementing hues like chartreuse coleus, orange marigolds, or red begonias for a strong look.

Quick Identification

  • Leaf front and back and stems are PURPLE
  • Flowers are at the ends of stems and are usually pink

Potential Challenges

  • No serious problems, although aphids and vine weevil are attracted, as well as scales and mealybugs. Caterpillars, slugs, and snails can munch on outdoor plants. 
  • Protect from strong winds that can damage the stems.

The juice from the leaves and stems can occasionally cause skin redness and irritation in humans and dogs; however, this issue is not common.

Tradescantia Pallida

Tradescantia Sillamontana (Cobweb Spiderwort; White Gossamer Plant; White Velvet)

Synonym: Tradescantia pexata

Tradescantia sillamontana, often known as cobweb spiderwort, is a low-growing perennial groundcover plant endemic to arid areas of Mexico. This easy-to-grow plant enjoys moderate shade but will thrive in full sun if the soil is kept wet. The leaves might burn if they are in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day.

It may grow in various soil and pH conditions but favors acidic, loamy soils with good drainage. Pinching the tips back will encourage a bushier appearance. If the tips are not plucked, it might develop a trailing habit.

They perform well in containers; ensure to water them regularly but not excessively. Between waterings, allow the soil to dry out a little.

Overwatering, as well as too much shade and nitrogen, can make the plant seem unsightly. Watering from above should be avoided.

Cutting down the plant after it has flowered can encourage a second bloom while avoiding self-seeding.

During the winter, stop watering your plants. Although it is classified as a tropical perennial, it may be grown as an annual in colder hardiness zones. More light and less water will produce a more silvery and compact plant.

Quick Identification

  • The leaves are arranged in a perfect geometric pattern.
  • The leaves, stems, and buds are covered with white hairs.

Potential Challenges

Reseeding is a problem that may be prevented by pruning the plant back once it has finished blooming.

Tradescantia Spathacea (Boat Lily; Moses In A Basket; Moses-In-The-Cradle; Oyster Plant)

Synonym: Rhoeo spathacea

A tropical sculptural herbaceous perennial plant of the Commelinaceae family, the boat lily is a tropical sculptural herbaceous perennial plant.

The boat lily is prized for its unique inflorescence and appealing leaves. To recognize this plant from other bromeliads, look for the purple underside of the leaf and the distinctive bract-enclosed blooms.

It’s usually cultivated as a houseplant, but it may also be used as a patio plant taken inside during the winter. Plant in a well-drained potting medium with lots of indirect light.

If the plant doesn’t get enough light, it will stretch out and become lanky, or its purple leaves will turn green. If you’re going to keep it outside in the summer, make sure it gets some midday shade.

Allow the top 1-2 inches of soil to dry out between waterings and reduce the water used in the winter.

This easy-to-grow plant blooms throughout the year and is easily propagated by stem cuttings, division, or seed.

This plant may be grown as a houseplant or in a container that can be moved indoors when frost is a worry. Because this is the only Tradescantia that grows upwards rather than down, it will not function in a hanging basket.

It may be grown outdoors in zones 9 and above, where it will develop a dense mat ground cover, but be aware that it is quickly naturalized.

Quick Identification

  • Radially oriented linear leaves with purple undersides
  • Flowers are axillary and white, with a pair of boat-shaped bracts on the interior.

Potential Challenges

  • It has displayed weedy tendencies in warm climates.

T. spathacea Varieties & Cultivars

  • ‘Vittata’ – Variegated leaves

Tradescantia Subaspera (Spiderwort; Wideleaf Spiderwort; Zigzag Spiderwort)

Tradescantia subaspera is a perennial herb that may also be used as a houseplant or interiorscape plant. The leaves are arranged in an alternating pattern and fasten at the base, and they’re basic, grass-like, and lengthy.

The axils of the parent leaves can occasionally produce secondary stems and leaves. The fuzzy leaves, which resemble the leaves of a corn stalk, contain distinct parallel veins.

Its native habitats include deciduous forests and borders, ravines, cliff bases, and shady streams when growing in the wild.

Tradescantia subaspera is exclusively found in the eastern side of the United States, where Spiderwort may grow wild in most states.

The Zigzag Spiderwort gets its name from the shape of its stem. At the leaf nodes in the half of the plant, the stem shifts direction slightly. The leaves of Wideleaf Spiderwort are broader than those of the rest of the species.

In the mornings, the flowers bloom, and in the afternoons, they close. On overcast days, they may stay open for a longer amount of time.

The root structure of this plant is a tangle of fibrous roots, and offsets are occasionally created from the roots. Although it may be grown in various soils, it thrives in fertile, loamy soil.

It does best when not exposed to direct sunlight for long periods. Appreciates the shade from the blazing midday heat.

Potential Challenges

There are no severe illnesses or pest risks. The leaves are eaten by deer, box turtles, and cottontail rabbits.

Tradescantia Virginiana (Common Spiderwort; Spider Lily; Virginia Spiderwort)

Virginia Spiderwort is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial in the dayflower family endemic to the eastern and central United States and found in the Piedmont of North Carolina.

The plants develop clusters and grow 2-3 feet tall by 1 foot wide thanks to subsurface stolons. It grows in wet grasslands, lush forests, open woods, meadows, hillsides, rocky bluffs, stream banks, and roadside ditches.

The 3-petaled blooms develop in the spring and endure for a day, but fresh ones appear every day in terminal clusters.

Flowers come in various colors, from blue to purple to pink. Cut the stems back once they’ve done flowering.

The leaves may die back in the summer heat, but it reappears in the late summer and often reblooms in the fall.

Virginia Spiderwort favors damp to wet, rich areas, although it may grow in various garden soils in both sun and shade. During dry seasons, provide extra water. Use in a naturalized or forest setting, by a stream or pond, in a rain garden, or along the edge of a native/pollinator garden.

Tradescantia Virginiana

Tradescantia Zebrina (Inch Plant)

Synonym: Tradescantia pendula; Zebrina pendula

Tradescantia zebrina is a herbaceous perennial often grown as a houseplant. It has interesting variegated foliage striped green, white, and gray leaves with purple undersides.   The leaves are ovate and clasp the stem at the base.

Tiny three-petaled lavender-purple flowers infrequently appear indoors. Leaf nodes on the stem are supposed to be 1-inch apart, hence the common name inch plant.   It tolerates various growing conditions but does best in filtered sun, average room temperatures, and moist but well-drained soil. Reduce watering in the winter.

Pinch back to encourage bushy growth. Plants can be pruned back hard every spring and can be taken outside on a protected patio in the summer. It is commonly grown in a hanging pot.

This plant is synonymous with Tradescantia pendula and Zebrina pendula.

When located in full sunlight, the greatest color intensity can be appreciated. However, the sun can wash out the color in more southern locations. In areas providing low lighting, the stems can lose their lower leaves, and the remaining leaves can lose some of their beautiful colors.

Trimming keeps this creeper contained as well as promotes denser foliage. Removed leggy growth also allows for cuttings that can be used for propagation. Although typically grown as a perennial, the cuttings can be used to

Quick Identification

  • The leaves are arranged in two rows and have two longitudinal stripes.
  • Stems with closed sheaths trail behind.
  • The undersides of the leaves are PURPLE.
  • Paired bracts surround solitary flowers.

Potential Challenges

There are no severe insect or disease issues. Soggy soil can cause root rot and stem rot. Aphids, mealybugs, scale, whiteflies, and spider mites can become a problem if left untreated. Some people develop skin irritations after coming into contact with plant sap.

Known for its striking, colorful leaves and rapid growth, it is frequently cultivated inside in a hanging basket or as a groundcover in interiorscapes; each blossom lasts only one day.

T. Zebriana Varieties & Cultivars

T. zebrina ‘Burgundy.’

Burgundy is a plant that exhibits a wide range of colors according to the lighting and stage of development. It can resemble Red Gem or have smaller leaves and more distinct stripes.

T. zebrina ‘Silver Plus.’

One of the most common zebrinas, this gorgeous variety features deep purple tips that transition to silvery green over time. This is a basic assignment that should not be tough for you. Cuttings take very little time to root in soil; they can even be placed on top of the soil and left to self-root.

T. zebrina ‘Red Gem.’

Red Gem seems to have ruby-red leaves with faint stripes when strained by the sun. It’s a pretty deep ruby burgundy when grown in perfect conditions, with brilliant filtered light and frequent water only when the soil is dry.

Red Gem and Silver Plus might appear similar in some lighting. When you make cuttings, it’s always a good idea to tag them carefully.

T. zebrina Multi-Color Discolor

This is one of the most colorful zebrina varieties and one of the few that doesn’t require full, direct sun. The white variegation can easily burn in direct sunshine, but the plant thrives with as much light as possible.

This type is commonly mistaken for Quadricolor; however, it isn’t as stable. It’s also a little less vivid and shimmering, with muddy hues.

T. zebrina Quadricolor

Quadricolor is a colorful plant that comes in a variety of hues. As it grows, the pink and white stripes and variegation will form on stems that appear “reverted” and look very similar to Silver Plus.

It’s less colorful in the winter (though it may still create lovely variegation), then as the days become longer, the light improves, and the plant matures, producing color stripes amid the silver and purple.

Color will also appear in new offshoots; quadricolor variegation is carried in the stems, not the leaves, and is considered stable.

There is no such thing as a reversed quadricolor; every piece has the potential to generate variegation. Starting with highly variegated sections will result in a weak plant; to give the plant the most energy to work with for future growth, limit the white or pink areas to a minimum.

Conclusion

With so many species there is a Tradescantia to suit any part of the home. I am sure you will find one to suit you. Just consider the pros and cons of each and you are good to go.

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