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Tradescantia /ˌtrædɪˈskæntiə/[4] is a genus of 75 species of herbaceous perennial wildflowers in the family Commelinaceae, native to the New World from southern Canada to northern Argentina, including the West Indies. Members of the genus are known by the common names wandering Jew or spiderwort.[5] Other names used for various species include spider-lily, cradle-lily, oyster-plant and flowering inch plant.

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
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. A number of species are nyctinastic. 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 various regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, as well as on some oceanic islands.[3]

The genus is of interest to cytogenetics because of evolutionary changes in the structure and number of their chromosomes.[6] They have also been used as bioindicators for the detection of environmental mutagens.[7] In addition to their use as ornamentals, Tradescantia is of economic importance because a number of species have become pests to cultivated crops and have been labelled as 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, or purple, but are most commonly bright blue, with three petals and six yellow anthers (or rarely, four petals and eight yellow anthers). The sap is mucilaginous and clear.

A number of species are nyctinastic and have flowers that unfold in the morning and close when the sun shines on the flowers in the afternoon but can remain open on cloudy days until evening.



Tradescantia fluminensis

Phylogenetic studies suggest that Tradescantia can be subdivided into as many as twenty distinct sections, as given here and further circumscribed by Burns et al. (2011).[8]

Enlarging the sections from eight to twelve added six further species for a total of 68. Within section Tradescantia, he distinguished the American species (series Virginianae) from the three Mexican series (Tuberosae, Sillamontanae, and Orchidophyllae). "Type" as listed here indicates species typica. Numbering of sections refers to Hunt's original (1980) system as a cross check to his index. The renumbered sections from 1986 are given in italics, e.g. (1)(5).[a][b]

Section Austrotradescantia (3)(7) D.R.Hunt. 6 species

(Brazil, Uruguay, N Argentina)

Section Campelia (1) (Rich.) D. R. Hunt 1 species

(Tropical America)

Section Coholomia (2)(6) D.R.Hunt 1 species

(Guatemala, El Salvador, S Mexico)

Section Corinna (2) D.R.Hunt 1 species

(S Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica)

Section Cymbispatha (1)(5) (Pichon) D.R.Hunt 9 species

(Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil)

Section Mandonia (7)(11) D.R.Hunt 7 species

(Mexico: Durango)

Section Parasetcreasea (8)(12) D.R.Hunt 1 species

(Mexico: Chihuahua to Oaxaca)

Section Rhoeo (4) (Hance) D.R.Hunt 1 species

(Mexico (Yucatán), Belize)

Section Separotheca (6)(10) (Waterfall) D.R.Hunt 1 species

(Mexico: Durango)

Section Setcreasea (5)(9) (K.Schum. & Sydow) D.R.Hunt 5 species

(U.S.A.: Texas; Mexico: Chihuahua to Veracruz)

Section Tradescantia (4)(8) L. 32 species
Section Zebrina (3) (Schnizlein) D.R.Hunt. 1 species

(Mexico to Venezuela)
(*Tradescantia schippii D.R.Hunt.)

Incertae sedis


  • Tradescantia × andersoniana W.Ludw. & Rohweder[16][17] Phylogenetically T. × andersoniana is situated within series Virginianae, as follows ( T. ohiensis × ( T. subaspera Ker Gawl. × T. virginiana L.)).[8]

Formerly placed hereEdit


By 1998, Fadden listed 70 species,[18] while currently The Plant List accepts 75.[19]


The name of the genus by Carl Linnaeus honours the English naturalists and explorers John Tradescant the Elder (c. 1570s – 1638) and John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662),[20][21] who introduced many new plants to English gardens. Tradescant the Younger mounted three expeditions to the New World colony of Virginia.[22] From there the type species, Tradescantia virginiana, was brought to England in 1629.

The genus Tradescantia has received many common names, varying by region and country. Some of these names refer to the plants' great dispersal ability or invasiveness, such as "Wandering Jew"; the latter, a name which Tradescantia species share with plants of several other genera, refers to a Christian myth of the Wandering Jew, condemned to wander the earth for taunting Jesus on the way to his crucifixion.[23] In Spanish, it is 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.[24]

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.


Species of the Tradescantia genus 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.[21] Ease and popularity of cultivation has led to the spread of some species as serious weeds (see below).

A common cultivar responsible for most commercially available plants is derived from the naturally occurring interspecific hybrid (nothospecies) Tradescantia × andersoniana, an invalid name more correctly referred to as 'Andersoniana Group' since it includes several cultivars, the origins of which are complex.[25] The group was derived from naturally occurring cross-pollination between Tradescantia virginiana, T. ohiensis, and T. subaspera in overlapping ranges within continental North America.[21] They share a number of characteristics, although they differ in flower colour.[26] The cultivars in this group include 'Blue Stone', 'Isis', 'Innocence', 'Snowcap', 'Osprey', 'Iris Pritchard', 'Pauline', 'Red Cloud' and 'Karminglut' ('Carmine Glow').[27][21] Tradescantia × andersoniana var. caerulea plena is a double-flowered variety with dark blue flowers.[25][26]

The cultivar 'Concord Grape' (Andersoniana Group) has won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[28]


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,[29] New Zealand and the southern United States.[30] Other species considered invasive weeds in certain places include T. pallida,[31] T. spathacea,[32] and T. zebrina.[33]


Some members of the genus Tradescantia may cause allergic reactions in pets (especially cats and dogs) characterised by red, itchy skin. 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.[21] 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.[7][21]



  1. ^ The place of T. schippii is uncertain. Hunt indicates it is included in section Zebrina, but Burns considers the section monotypic.
  2. ^ T. blossfeldiana as used by Hunt and Burns is now considered a synonym for T. cerinthoides. Hunt originally listed these as separate species. Hunt also listed T. potosina and T. nuevoleonensis as separate species, but the latter is now the accepted name, while T. subramosa and T. subtilis are now considered synonyms for T. maysillesii rather than separate species.[9]


  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. ^ "Tradescantia". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 14 December 2015.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ a b 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.
  9. ^ "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families". Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Hunt, David R. (1980). "Sections and Series in Tradescantia: American Commelinaceae: IX". Kew Bulletin. 35 (2): 437–442. doi:10.2307/4114596. JSTOR 4114596.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ "Tradescantia". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved 2011-06-16.
  15. ^ a b "GRIN Species Records of Tradescantia". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. Archived from the original on 2015-09-24. Retrieved 2011-06-16.
  16. ^ Feddes Repert. Spec. Nov. Regni Veg. 56: 282 (1954)
  17. ^ "World Checklist". Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  18. ^ Faden, R. B. (1998-01-01). "Commelinaceae". In Kubitzki, Professor Dr Klaus (ed.). Flowering Plants · Monocotyledons. The Families and Genera of Vascular Plants. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. pp. 109–128. doi:10.1007/978-3-662-03531-3_12. ISBN 978-3-642-08378-5.
  19. ^ "The Plant List". The Plant List. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  20. ^ Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology. IV R-Z. Taylor & Francis US. p. 2697. ISBN 978-0-8493-2678-3.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Hawke 2010.
  22. ^ José Manuel Sánchez de Lorenzo-Cáceres. Las especies del género Tradescantia cultivadas en España. 2004.
  23. ^ Anderson, George K. The Legend of the Wandering Jew. Providence: Brown University Press, 1965. xi, 489 p.; ISBN 0-87451-547-5
  24. ^ Bugatti, C.L. 2008. Desde el jardín. Esos yuyos con aire lujoso. La Nación (Argentina).
  25. ^ a b Dave's Garden 2015, Tod Boland. Spiderwort Hybrids - Tradescantia X andersoniana. September 1, 2012.
  26. ^ a b Christman 2005.
  27. ^ Dave's Garden 2015, Spiderwort, Virginia Spiderwort, Lady's Tears Tradescantia x andersoniana 'Karminglut'.
  28. ^ "Tradescantia 'Concord Grape' (Andersoniana Group)". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  29. ^ "Weeds search". Tradescantia fluminensis. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  30. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia fluminensis (wandering Jew). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  31. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia pallida (purple queen). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  32. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia spathacea (boat lily). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
  33. ^ Witt, A; Luke, Q, eds. (2017). Tradescantia zebrina (wandering jew). doi:10.1079/9781786392145.0000. ISBN 9781786392145. Retrieved 2020-07-08.


External linksEdit