Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Spiderwort

I love my garden in the early morning. Once the sun has made it past the trees, it begins to spot light the shadier garden nooks.

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.

Thanks,
gailxoxo




The particulars

Tradescantia virginiana aka Spiderwort
Type: Perennial
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.

30 comments:

  1. Gail, What do you mean in the following paragraph? "In my garden, spiderwort's arching stems...are known to spread by seed and are best dug out when young, before a thick, fibrous root develops in the middle of one of your prize plants." When you say they are best dug out, do you mean transplanted elsewhere? And what is the "thick, fibrous root" that develops in the middle of the plant? I have these plants, and I really like them until they slow down in bloom and topple over. Maybe I'm missing some valuable information. Thanks for your help.

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    Replies
    1. Jeanette, the seedlings could grow in another ornamental, like a nearby grass, native geranium or carex. Much easier to pull them as young seedlings. So we have to be observant.

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    2. Thank you, Gail, for your response. I understand now what you meant. Happy Gardening!

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  2. I have three colors of spiderwort in my garden. They never seed around. The clumps do get bigger and bigger. I have never found one away from where I plant them. I just love those flowers and they adapt to the crazy drought times we now seem to have every summer. Kate has reverted from time to time and she dies back to the ground during drought but magically appears again when the rain returns.

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  3. I planted a wackload of the species plant last year and had wonderful blooms in the first season. I am curious how they will do this year. I have planted so many natives labelled aggressive plants, I have given up on worrying too much about naysayers! So many of them have self seeded in the bare patches of my new border garden, that I am rather excited to discover how my garden will transform. Thanks for your informative profile of this lovely plant. I always learn something new when I read your posts and your practical advice is invaluable.

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  4. Absolutely love this plant and it has seeded itself all over and I let it....what a sight once they bloom.....they should be up soon but everything is delayed here so we shall see.

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  5. I have one that was in a container that came with me from VA with another plant. It had reseeded a lot in VA, so I wasn't planning on having any here. I am so glad it came anyway. I certainly have the space for it to spread its seeds to lots of spots! (tho, so far just the one plant is apparent)

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  6. As to the origin of the name, I think it comes from the spider-like look of the roots.

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    Replies
    1. Another explanation, love this one. Thanks, Ellen.

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  7. I love this post, Gail! It makes me think more highly of the spiderworts I have that have gotten so large that I was thinking about removing them because of how ratty they get later in the season. I was thinking they also went dormant. I am trying to remember if I have gone ahead and cut them back, but I will do that this year when they start looking bad. I have had them self sow, and for some reason have small ones in the vegetable garden that are blooming different colors, such as white and pink. The ones in the side yard are blue and I'm thinking a different pink than what's in the vegetable garden. A friend of mine gave me a native small leaved blue bloomer that I put in a wash tub. This is the second season, and they are doing well. The tub has filled out, but there are a couple other kinds of plants in there I should probably pull out.

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  8. This post made me sit back in my chair and breathe a deep and satisfying breath. I love the spiderworts, have several species, and I find them neither aggressive nor troublesome in any way. Love the container idea. I may transfer part of my Sweet Kate into a container so she gets seen more often. She is stunning. Thank you

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    Replies
    1. At Owl's Hill, a local nature center where I volunteer, has planted Kate in a cobalt blue container and she looks fantastic. You are welcome.

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  9. I love spiderworts. Here, in the Florida panhandle, I have Tradescantia ohiensis. It's been blooming since early February and is still going strong. One of my plants, in full sun, became the "dog marker" spot next to the sidewalk over the last year. It was much later to bloom than its non-fertilized sister, but is extremely thick and large and showy now. Now I'm thinking I ought to fertlize ALL my spiderworts! LOL.

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  10. I actually love it! I have several, both wild grown and those planted by me. My honeybees love the ones planted in full sun. A beautiful flower. I really wish it would move around in my gardens.

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  11. Have a love/hate relationship with spiderworts, Gail. Except for my chartreuse leaf ones, they pop up everywhere, even hopping across in gardens where never planted. Though trying to keep a keen eye, have intertwined especially with beloved daylilies that resemble each other when first emerging. I have white, pink, and purple. I love to cut and mix with hosta leaves. Yes, I love/hate ... and, yes, I too love to photograph them.

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  12. Spiderworts are one of my favorites for their hardiness and long blooming time. There are so many wonderful colors, as well.TY for Wildflower Wednesday!

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  13. It's funny. They grow at the edges of my woods and barely explore further. I have one of the chartreuse ones in my front garden, and while the clump gets bigger, it never seems to set seed. I love the spiderworts. I really do. They are wondrous plants. ~~Dee

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  14. I love how spider wort pops up all over my garden! It is my favorite weed/wild flower : )

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  15. I bought a number of Sweet Kate and they have all been gnawed into sticks by rabbits or deer. I sprayed with Liquid Fence and that didn't seem to deter the wildlife at all. Oh, some of them were eaten by voles as well. So upsetting!!! I loved the chartreuse leaves and purple flowers.

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    Replies
    1. That is so aggravating. Try planting Kate in a taller container, one rabbits can't reach into! She does look good planted in a cobalt blue pot.

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  16. Great post. I've grown Ohio Spiderwort. I love the flowers though the plant tends to get floppy in my garden.

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  17. The spiderworts would take over my garden if I let them. They show up everywhere! I'm constantly pulling them out and making attempts to stop them from self-sowing about the place. I have moments when I think a few would be nice and other moments when I want them to all be gone! I had 'Kate' for a while. I haven't seen here lately. I wonder if she died out on me? I'll have to go look more closely for where I think she might be.

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  18. I've never had a desire to add this one to my garden, I'm not sure why. But I do get annoyed at any flower that leaves me looking at strappy foliage, so I think I'll pass. But they sound like a good match for Clay and Limestone!

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  19. I grow 'Concord Grape' and the clump does get bigger, but I have had no seedlings. It doesn't seem like a weed to me.

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    1. Good news. I just planted it last week. Had to give it a haircut, it was looking ratty.

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  20. Love spiderworts. I have several nice colonies in my garden and they are covered in bees in the early morning. Like you, I enjoy watching them in the early morning with a cup of coffee in hand. That is a baby assasin bug on your spiderwort. They are very cool insects. We see them a lot here. I wonder if it was trying to catch one of your bees?!

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  21. I love spiderwort and here in my Kentucky Gardens it is very prolific....but my bees and other pollinators love it. I cut it back after the first bloom flush and then it will bloom again. I am constantly digging and giving away, but they are worth it....

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  22. I have a bee on a yellow daisy for you.

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  23. Personally, I love spiderworts!

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  24. You did make a good case Gail. I've loved spiderwort since I was a child and decided to paint the white columns on the front porch with the purple flowers. In the past 4-5 years though I have become very allergic to the sap in the stems, making it treacherous to cut back after it quits blooming. Still, it holds nice memories.

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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