(tra-des-can' chee-ah)

Common name: Tradescantia, Spiderwort

Family: Commelinaceae, Spiderwort

Height x width: 6-12" x 18-36"

Foliage: creeping or trailing stems, alternate, fleshy, generally ovate, often purple-flushed or variegated, 3-6" to 12" depending on species

Flowers: saucer-shaped, 3 petals and 3 sepals, in cymes with boat-shaped bracts

Light: bright especially for variegated, tolerates moderate, some species tolerate low

Temperature: cool to average

Watering: moderate

Fertility: moderate

Humidity: high

Soil: well-drained

Pests and Problems: viruses, mealybugs, aphids, spider mites; brown leaf tips indicate too wet or too dry

Growth habit, uses: hanging, groundcover indoors

Other interest: native to South America; named for 17th century British botanist and gardener John Tradescant; although flowering, plants are usually self-sterile so do not produce seeds; related to the temperate perennial spiderworts in the Andersoniana Group, often listed under virginiana but actually hybrids, hardy to zones 4 or 5-8; source of recent taxonomic reshuffling, with formerly separate genera now included here

Other culture: gets spindly in poor light and may need repropagating

Propagation: easy to root stem or tip cuttings even in water, layering as stems root at nodes

Species: Those marked * are most commonly seen.

albiflora:fluminensis 'Variegata'


cerinthoides (cer-in-thoy' dees)--creeping or ascending, elliptic to narrow ovate leaves dark green above and purple below, paired cymes of pink or white flowers

fluminensis (flu-mi-nen' siss)--Wandering Jew, trailing, ovate light green leaves purple below

*pallida 'Purpurea' (Setcreasea) (pal-li-dah')--Purple Heart, trailing with ascending purple stems, narrow pointed leaves violet-purple, v-shaped in cross section, best leaf color when dry and bright light; shoots break off easily so keep away from traffic; commonly used now as an annual for foliage in landscapes and container combinations

sillamontana(sil-lah-mon-ta' nah)--White Velvet, trailing and later spreading, silky-hairy gray-green leaves, ovate, magenta-pink flowers

*spathacea (Rhoeo discolor) (spath-aa' cee-ah)--Moses-in-a-cradle, Moses-in-the-bulrushes, Three-men-in-a-boat; common name from flowers clustered in large, persistant purple bracts in boat shape; clumping, linear to lance-shaped leaves to 12", dark green above and dark purple below


zanonia (Campelia) (za-no' nee'ah)--clumping, dark green leaves broadly elliptic to 10" long, flowers paired in leafy bracts

*zebrina (ze-brii' nah)--Wandering Jew, trailing stems, ovate bluish green leaves with 2 longitudinal stripes silvery above and purplish below, purplish flowers paired in terminal cymes; one of the easiest, most adaptable, and longest used interior plants for low light

Cultivar species foliage, other
'Albovittata' fluminensis light green, white longitudinal stripes
'Aurea' fluminensis yellow longitudinal stripes
'Purple Heart':Purpurea' pallida  
'Purpusii' zebrina bronze-purple leaves, pink flowers
'Quadricolor' zebrina striped green, cream, pink, silver
'Variegata' cerinthoides variable cream stripes longitudinally
'Variegata' fluminensis variably striped white, purple, cream
'Vittata' spathacea longitudinal yellow stripes

©Authored by Dr. Leonard Perry, Professor, University of Vermont as part of PSS121, Indoor Plants.

Return to  Perry's Perennial Pages | PSS121 course