(Redirected from Spiderwort)

Tradescantia (/ˌtrædəˈskæntiə/[4]) is a genus of 85 species[5] of herbaceous perennial wildflowers in the family Commelinaceae, native to the Americas from southern Canada to northern Argentina, including the West Indies. Members of the genus are known by many common names, including inchplant, spiderwort,[6] and dayflower.[7]

Spiderwort Blue Flower 2.JPG
Tradescantia ohiensis
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Clade: Commelinids
Order: Commelinales
Family: Commelinaceae
Subfamily: Commelinoideae
Tribe: Tradescantieae
Subtribe: Tradescantiinae
Genus: Tradescantia
Ruppius ex L.[1][2]
Type species
Tradescantia virginiana
  • * Austrotradescantia
    • Campelia
    • Coholomia
    • Corinna
    • Cymbispatha
    • Mandonia
    • Parasetcreasea
    • Rhoeo
    • Separotheca
    • Setcreasea
    • Tradescantia
    • Zebrina
Unusual example with four petals and eight anthers

Tradescantia grow 30–60 cm tall (1–2 ft), and are commonly found individually or in clumps in wooded areas and open fields. They were introduced into Europe as ornamental plants in the 17th century and are now grown in many parts of the world. Some species have become naturalized in regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, and on some oceanic islands.[3]

The genus's many species are of interest to cytogenetics because of evolutionary changes in the structure and number of their chromosomes.[8] They have also been used as bioindicators for the detection of environmental mutagens.[9] Some species have become pests to cultivated crops and considered invasive.


Tradescantia are herbaceous perennials and include both climbing and trailing species, reaching 30–60 centimetres (0.98–1.97 ft) in height. The leaves are long, thin and blade-like to lanceolate, from 3–45 cm long (1.2–17.7 in). The flowers can be white, pink, purple or blue, with three petals and six yellow anthers (or rarely, four petals and eight anthers). The sap is mucilaginous and clear.

A number of species have flowers that last for only a day, opening in the morning and closing by the evening.[10]


The scientific name of the genus chosen by Carl Linnaeus honours the English naturalists and explorers John Tradescant the Elder (c. 1570s – 1638) and John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662),[11][12] who introduced many new plants to English gardens. Tradescant the Younger mounted three expeditions to the new colony of Virginia.[13] From there the type species, Tradescantia virginiana, was brought to England in 1629.

Plants of the genus are called by many common names, varying by region and country. The name "inchplant" is thought to describe the plant's fast growth,[14] or the fact that leaves are an inch apart on the stem.[15] "Spiderwort" refers to the sap which dries into web-like threads when a stem is cut. [16] The name "dayflower", shared with other members of the Commelinaceae family, refers to the flowers which open and close within a single day.

The controversial name "wandering Jew" originates from the Christian myth of the Wandering Jew, condemned to wander the earth for taunting Jesus on the way to his crucifixion.[17] In recent years there have been efforts to stop using this and other potentially offensive common names,[18] in favour of alternatives such as "wandering dude".[19][20]

In Spanish, Tradescantia plants are sometimes referred to as flor de Santa Lucía (Saint Lucy's flower), in reference to the Saint's reputation as the patron saint of sight, and the use of the juice of the plant as eye drops to relieve congestion.[21]


Subdivisions and speciesEdit

Tradescantia fluminensis
(subg. Austrotradescantia)
Tradescantia spathacea
(subg. Campelia)
Tradescantia brevifolia
(subg. Setcreasea)

The number of species and infrageneric taxa has changed throughout history. The first major classification proposed by Hunt (1980) included 60 species divided into eight sections, with one section divided into a further four series.[22] Hunt's 1986 revision united several small genera with Tradescantia as sections, resulting in a total of twelve sections comprising 68 species,[23] and this infrageneric classification was accepted for several decades.

A recent study by Pellegrini (2017) proposed a new classification based on recent morphological research, dividing the genus into five subgenera.[24] The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew currently recognises 85 species.[5]

Subgenus Austrotradescantia (D.R.Hunt) M.Pell[25]
Subgenus Campelia (Rich.) M.Pell.
Subgenus Mandonia (D.R.Hunt) M.Pell.
Subgenus Setcreasea (K.Schum. & Sydow) M.Pell
Subgenus Tradescantia


  • Tradescantia × andersoniana W.Ludw. & Rohweder[31][32] Phylogenetically T. × andersoniana is situated within series Virginianae, as follows ( T. ohiensis × ( T. subaspera Ker Gawl. × T. virginiana L.)).[33]

Formerly placed hereEdit

Distribution and habitatEdit

The first species described, the Virginia spiderwort, T. virginiana, is native to the eastern United States from Maine to Alabama, and Canada in southern Ontario. Virginia spiderwort was introduced to Europe in 1629, where it is cultivated as a garden flower.

The natural range of the genus as a whole spans nearly the entire length and width of mainland North America, from Canada through Mexico and Central America, and thrives in a great diversity of temperate and tropical habitats. It is frequently found in thinly wooded deciduous forests, plains, prairies, and healthy fields, often alongside other native wildflowers.


The western spiderwort T. occidentalis is listed as an endangered species in Canada, where the northernmost populations of the species are found at a few sites in southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta; it is more common further south in the United States to Texas and Arizona.


Tradescantia plants are widely used for ground cover in gardens

Spiderworts are popular in Europe and North America as ornamental plants. Temperate species are grown as garden plants while tropical species, such as T. zebrina and T. spathacea, are used as house plants.[12] Their popularity and easy spreading nature has led to some species being considered serious weeds in certain places (see below).

Most cold-hardy garden plants belong to the Andersoniana Group (often referred to with the invalid name Tradescantia × andersoniana).[34] This is a group of interspecific hybrids developed from Tradescantia virginiana, T. ohiensis, and T. subaspera, which have overlapping ranges within continental North America.[12] These plants are clump-forming herbaceous perennials, with individual cultivars mainly differing in flower colour.[35] The cultivars in this group include 'Blue Stone', 'Isis', 'Innocence', 'Snowcap', 'Osprey', 'Iris Pritchard', 'Pauline', 'Red Cloud' and 'Karminglut' ('Carmine Glow').[36][12] 'Caerulea Plena' is a double-flowered variety with dark blue flowers.[12] 'Concord Grape' (Andersoniana Group) has won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[37]

A wide range of tender tropical species are cultivated as houseplants or outdoor annuals, including Tradescantia zebrina, T. fluminensis, T. spathacea, T. sillamontana, and T. pallida.[38][39] They are typically grown for their foliage, and many have colourful variegated patterns of silver, purple, green, pink, and gold.[39] Popular tropical cultivars include T. zebrina 'Silver Plus', T. zebrina 'Burgundy', T. fluminensis 'Lavender', T. fluminensis 'Variegata', T. mundula 'Laekenensis', T. pallida 'Purple Heart', Tradescantia 'Nanouk', and Tradescantia 'Pale Puma'.[40] The species Tradescantia zebrina, and the cultivars Tradescantia 'Quicksilver' and Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea' have received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[41]


Due to its ready propagation from stem fragments and its domination of the ground layer in many forest environments, T. fluminensis has become a major environmental weed in Australia,[42] New Zealand and the southern United States.[43] Other species considered invasive weeds in certain places include T. pallida,[44] T. spathacea,[45] and T. zebrina.[46]


Some members of the genus Tradescantia may cause allergic reactions in pets (especially cats and dogs) characterised by red, itchy skin.[47] Notable culprits include T. albiflora (scurvy weed), T. spathacea (Moses in the cradle), and T. pallida (purple heart).


Native Americans used T. virginiana to treat a number of conditions, including stomachache. It was also used as a food source.[12] The cells of the stamen hairs of some Tradescantia are colored blue, but when exposed to sources of ionizing radiation such as gamma rays or pollutants like sulphur dioxide from industries, the cells mutate and change color to pink; they are one of the few tissues known to serve as an effective bioassay for ambient radiation levels.[9][12]



  1. ^ Linnaeus Sp. Pl.: 288 (1753).
  2. ^ a b "Genus: Tradescantia L." Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 2004-08-10. Archived from the original on 2011-06-05. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
  3. ^ a b "Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families". Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  4. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  5. ^ a b "Tradescantia". Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 2022-01-20.
  6. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Tradescantia". The PLANTS Database ( Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team. Retrieved 14 December 2015.
  7. ^ "Tradescantia". Seasonal Gardening. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  8. ^ Golczyk, H. (2011). "Structural Heterozygosity, Duplication of Telomeric (TTTAGGG)n Clusters and B Chromosome Architecture in Tradescantia virginiana L." Cytogenetic and Genome Research. 134 (3): 234–242. doi:10.1159/000328915. ISSN 1424-8581. PMID 21709415. S2CID 39983260.
  9. ^ a b Ichikawa, Sadao (1972). "Somatic Mutation Rate in Tradescantia Stamen Hairs at Low Radiation Levels: Finding of Low Doubling Doses of Mutations". The Japanese Journal of Genetics. 47 (6): 411–421. doi:10.1266/jjg.47.411.
  10. ^ "Growing Spiderworts". Gardening Know How. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  11. ^ Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology. Vol. IV R-Z. Taylor & Francis US. p. 2697. ISBN 978-0-8493-2678-3.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Hawke 2010.
  13. ^ José Manuel Sánchez de Lorenzo-Cáceres. Las especies del género Tradescantia cultivadas en España. 2004.
  14. ^ "Inch Plants". Almanac. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  15. ^ "Tradescantia zebrina". North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  16. ^ "Spiderwort: Why's It Called That Anyway?". Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  17. ^ Anderson, George K. The Legend of the Wandering Jew. Providence: Brown University Press, 1965. xi, 489 p.; ISBN 0-87451-547-5
  18. ^ "Racism in Taxonomy: What's in a Name?". Hoyt Arboretum. 2020-08-09. Retrieved 2021-04-19.
  19. ^ "Why We're No Longer Using the Name Wandering Jew". Bloombox Club. 2019-06-26. Retrieved 2021-08-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. ^ Goldwyn, Brittany (2019-07-23). "How to Care for a Wandering Tradescantia Zebrina Plant". by Brittany Goldwyn. Retrieved 2021-08-05.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. ^ Bugatti, C.L. 2008. Desde el jardín. Esos yuyos con aire lujoso.[permanent dead link] La Nación (Argentina).
  22. ^ Hunt, David R. (1980). "Sections and Series in Tradescantia: American Commelinaceae: IX". Kew Bulletin. 35 (2): 437–442. doi:10.2307/4114596. JSTOR 4114596.
  23. ^ Hunt, David R. (1986). "Campelia, Rhoeo and Zebrina united with Tradescantia: American Commelinaceae: XIII". Kew Bulletin. 41 (2): 401–405. doi:10.2307/4102948. JSTOR 4102948.
  24. ^ a b Pellegrini, Marco (26 Oct 2017). "Morphological phylogeny of Tradescantia L. (Commelinaceae) sheds light on a new infrageneric classification for the genus and novelties on the systematics of subtribe Tradescantiinae". PhytoKeys (89): 11–72. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.89.20388. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  25. ^ Pellegrini, Marco (19 July 2018). "Wandering throughout South America: Taxonomic revision of Tradescantia subg. Austrotradescantia (D.R.Hunt) M.Pell. (Commelinaceae)". PhytoKeys (104): 1–97. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.104.28484. Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  26. ^ Pellegrini, M.O.O. (2020). "Tradescantia cerinthoides Kunth". Flora do Brasil. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  27. ^ Pellegrini, M.O.O. (2020). "Tradescantia chrysophylla M.Pell". Flora do Brasil. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  28. ^ Pellegrini, M.O.O. (2020). "Tradescantia crassula Link & Otto". Flora do Brasil. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  29. ^ Pellegrini, M.O.O. (2020). "Tradescantia decora W.Bull". Flora do Brasil. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  30. ^ Pellegrini, M.O.O. (2020). "Tradescantia mundula Kunth". Flora do Brasil. Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro. Retrieved 2022-03-01.
  31. ^ Feddes Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 56: 282 (1954)
  32. ^ "World Checklist". Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  33. ^ Burns, Jean H.; Faden, Robert B.; Steppan, Scott J. (2011). "Phylogenetic Studies in the Commelinaceae Subfamily Commelinoideae Inferred from Nuclear Ribosomal and Chloroplast DNA Sequences". Systematic Botany. 36 (2): 268–276. doi:10.1600/036364411X569471. S2CID 10759303.
  34. ^ Dave's Garden 2015, Tod Boland. Spiderwort Hybrids - Tradescantia X andersoniana. September 1, 2012.
  35. ^ Christman 2005.
  36. ^ Dave's Garden 2015, Spiderwort, Virginia Spiderwort, Lady's Tears Tradescantia x andersoniana 'Karminglut'.
  37. ^ "Tradescantia 'Concord Grape' (Andersoniana Group)". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  38. ^ "Wandering Jew Plant: Care, Types, and Growing Tips". Epic Gardening. 23 March 2017. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  39. ^ a b "Tradescantia". Better Homes & Gardens. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  40. ^ "Tradescantia (and the Different Varieties) – Plant Care Guide and Identification". Plants Spark Joy. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  41. ^ "Houseplants: choosing the best". RHS. Retrieved 2 November 2021.
  42. ^ "Weeds search". Tradescantia fluminensis. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  43. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia fluminensis (wandering Jew). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  44. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia pallida (purple queen). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  45. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia spathacea (boat lily). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  46. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia zebrina (wandering jew). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  47. ^ "Inch Plant". ASPCA. Retrieved 2022-03-04.


External linksEdit