Spiderworts look their best in that cool morning sun. The sun light makes those feathery violet hairs glow. Later in the day they're washed out by the hot, bright light, but that is the case for many delicate flowers.
|Spiderwort is ephemeral - its flowers stay open only one day.|
Tradescantia virginiana like all members of the dayflower/Commelinaceae family is ephemeral - its flowers stay open only one day (half day if sited in full sun), but, it continues blooming for a long time. The leaves are strappy, with pointed tips. Each has a channel (which looks like the perfect place to fold it) and is bright green with a dark green midvein and visible parallel veins.
Cultivars are now offered with, blue-green, chartreuse, or yellow leaves. I love the species plants and usually prefer them to cultivars, but, in this case, I say, go ahead and add whatever spiderwort cultivars you want to your garden. They all attract pollinators and for me, that's important...but, so is beauty! Just take a look a 'Kate' in the photo below. She's a beauty in chartreuse leaves and those purple flower pops against them.
|'Kate' a cultivar same flowers prettier leaves|
In my garden, spiderwort's arching stems are usually 2 to 3 foot tall and the clumps are never wider than 2 feet. The plant hasn't spread aggressively beyond their original plantings, but then C and L doesn't have rich, moist soil, which would encourage it to misbehave. They are known to spread by seed and if any seeds sprout where you don't want them, they're best dug out when young, before a thick, fibrous root can develop in the middle of one of your prize ornamental plants.
There seem to be two explanations of the origin of the common name: either from the sticky secretion exuded from cut or broken stems, which hardens into web-like threads or from from the angular placements of its leaves, which suggests a sitting spider. The sitting spider is a new one to me, but certainly got me on my hands and knees checking out the flowers.
It's a fabulous garden worthy plant, but it is not without its detractors!
|striking purplish blue flowers with three petals, 6 yellow stamens and the most exquisite spidery violet hairs.|
Perhaps it those detractors and their negative reviews of spiderwort that keep it from being in more wildflower gardens. I have often been asked to recommend plants for native/wildflower gardens and when I suggest Spiderwort, I inevitably hear, a list of negative statements. "It's too weedy." It's unruly. "It's aggressive." "It's too floppy and messy."
It can be unruly in the right circumstances and once the big bloom period passes, it is a whole lot of plant and no flower!
In my eyes it's still a garden worthy plant. I garden for wildlife and this plant always has bumbles and smaller critters visiting it. I appreciate the delicate flowers in vibrant purples, blues, pinks and even white. They are delightful in a shady garden. When the narrow, strap like leaves start to look ratty, and they do by July, I cut them back. I am rewarded with fresh growth and occasionally more blooms. Cutting back spiderwort will also curb rampant reseeding.
|a white flower from several years ago with a visiting hoverfly|
Spiderworts might not belong in a formal garden, but, they are certainly at their best in a woodland or cottage garden where they mingle nicely with native geraniums, Carex, Heucheras and foamflowers. I like to let them duke it out with colonizing plants like River oats and false dragonhead. Btw, False dragonhead is winning.
|Geranium maculatum 'Espresso' with 'Kate'|
Spiderworts are pollinated by bumbles and that makes me really happy. Beautiful and unique flowers that are not terribly temperamental about soil; that come in a kaleidoscopic palette of sumptuous colors; bushy plant that helps fill bare areas and mixes well in layered plantings; and, easy care, make this plant attractive to me.
If you can deal with a thuggish, tall, strappy, grass like plant when out of bloom; that is more plant than blooms, and; one that declines in the heat of summer; then, this is a plant for you. If you don't want to plant it in the garden, why not plant it in a container. You can move it out of the way when it stops blooming, cut the floppy stems back and wait to bring it back out when the cooler fall weather brings on the second flush of blooms.
I hope I've made a good case for Tradescantia virginiana! I want to be honest and not mislead you! Let me know what your experiences have been.
Tradescantia virginiana aka Spiderwort
Size: Usually around 2 feet tall, may get taller
Leaf: Green, blue green. Cultivars offer more color including lime green.
Bloom Color: Blue, purple, pinks and white. Cultivars may cross and create a lovely palette of colors
Bloom Time: March through June. May rebloom in fall.
Native Distribution: A Central basin native plant. Eastern half of the US and Canada. W. CT to WI, s. to GA, TN & e. MO
Native Habitat: Meadows; open woods; limestone outcrops
Water Use: Low when established, prefers moist soil
Light Requirement: Sun, Part Shade, Shade
Soil Description: Very adaptable plant prefers humus-rich soil, but will grow in a wide range of soils: moist/dry, clay/sand, acid/alkaline.
Wildlife: Attracts bees. Pollinated by bumblebees. Butterfly nectar source.
Comments: Juglones tolerant. POISONOUS PARTS: Leaves. A good ornamental in the garden. Attractive seasonal color for a shady or sunny area. Plant looks good with Heucheras, foam flowers and other native plants. Probably best in naturalistic plantings, woodland and shady gardens. To keep plants looking healthy, cut them back in late summer (or when they appear to stop blooming). Spiderwort spreads easily, but if kept under control, it can be used as a border plant. It is striking in mass when in bloom.
Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for stopping by to see Tradescantia virginiana, a sweet wildflower that I think has gotten a bad rap! Thanks also, for joining in and if you are new to Wildflower Wednesday, it's about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if your wildflower is in bloom or not and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.
Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.