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When we talk about houseplants, we often cover a specific variety of plants. It’s not always that we put a spotlight on a whole genus of plants. (For example: In one article, we talk about the pink princess, not all of the philodendrons).
But, the Tradescantia, a genus with at least 75 different types of perennial plants is best presented this way. They have some similarities in care requirements and the way they look, but they also have a couple of different needs.
Whatever your preference for houseplants is, this is a genus of indoor plants you’d definitely enjoy growing. You can tend to one kind or you can grow your own collection. You’ll never get bored!
If you have an affinity for the color purple or the color pink. If you’re a “plant and then forget about it” kind of person. Or, if you really just want some lush foliage happily growing indoor in your house, take into consideration the beautiful and interesting tradescantia houseplant.
The Tradescantia is the botanical name of a genus of plants some of you may know as the inch plant, spiderwort, or Wandering Jew.
If you grew up in a plant-loving home, chances are, you’ve had the joy of seeing the tradescantia zebrina or tradescantia fluminensis grow and thrive. It may be common in suburbs from winter hardy places to USDA zones 8-12. But actually, the tradescantia is native to tropical environments like Mexico and South America. Some species are considered invasive in some countries and are pests to crops and other plants.
Characteristics of the Wandering Jew
- Botanical Name: Tradescantia
- Common Name: Flowering Inch Plant, Spiderwort, Wandering Jew
- Plant Classification: Ground Cover, Herbaceous Perennial, Invasive in some countries
- Habit or Form: Cascading, Spreading
- Sun Requirements: Partial shade to Full Sun (at least 6 hours), bright indirect light
- Soil Requirements: Moist but well-draining soil
- Toxicity: Non-Toxic
- Native Area: South America, Mexico
How to Grow the Spiderwort
One of the reasons most spiderwort owners grow this plant in volume or big containers is because it is one of the easiest houseplants you can grow. With very minimal effort, you get a reward of flourishing leaves and bursting foliage in your pot.
While the spiderwort plant loves the sun, be careful of any direct sun exposure. The leaves can easily scorch. Morning sun with six to eight hours of bright, indirect light is the best for tradescantia plants. If your plant’s leaves look they’re about to fade, that’s a sign that you aren’t providing enough light for them.
One area of plant care that’s often considered a challenge by spiderwort plant owners is achieving the ideal moisture level. There are plenty of houseplants that share this need to have consistently moist soil but with proper drainage.
Dry soil is a problem, water-logged soil spells trouble. So always remember to water slowly, allowing your roots to properly hydrate. To ensure that your pot is providing good drainage, mix a bit of sand into your potting soil.
Because they are prolific (sometimes, aggressive) growers, you can pot the spiderwort in hanging containers. A location with bright, indirect sunlight will keep them happy. I recommend that you regularly pinch back and prune your plants so you don’t end up with leggy spiderworts.
Most tradescantia species are hardy only in zones 9 to 11. Frost and cold temperatures will hurt your plants, so be ready to protect them indoors.
Now here’s a caveat if you’re the long-term committed type. Spiderwort plants do not live long enough. They get a few years of vibrant and abundant growth and then they start to decline. All of the tradescantia family of plants become leggy, and unkempt after a few years. The good news is, you can always start a new plant with propagation.
The tradescantia zebrina is one of the most common kinds cultivated as houseplants. Even so, it possesses beautiful stripes on its leaves. That’s where the plant gets the name Zebrina, displaying a zebra-like design.
What I like about this variety is that it can be grown outdoors in areas that are neither too hot nor cold. When growing the zebrina indoors, provide a south or west exposure. Be ready to water when the soil is almost dry. The tradescantia zebrina variety is considered a semi-succulent plant, which means it can tolerate a bit of drought.
The zebrina has a few cultivars with characteristics that, in my opinion, should be a part of any self-respecting plant lover’s collection.
Tradescantia zebrina ‘Burgundy’
If you want to add rich and elegant colors to your indoor garden, the burgundy species has purple and green stripes that can show different colors depending on lighting and its stages of growth. It can have a deep almost black shade, or it can resemble the red gem zebrina.
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Tradescantia zebrina ‘Silver Plus’
Almost everyone who’s ever taken care of the silver plus will tell you this is the easiest one. Even in propagation, this tradescantia grows easily as cuttings. Some need not place the cuttings in water, you can just lay it on top of the soil and it will root by itself. It has deep purplish leaves with green, almost silvery tips.
Tradescantia zebrina ‘Red Gem’
Another one that can look very different depending on the exposure and environment. In ideal conditions (bright light, proper watering) it gives off gorgeous red-burgundy leaves.
Many people often refer to the tradescantia fluminensis species as the flowering inch plant. For one, it’s a perennial ground cover that spreads out on the ground. And then, it blooms these white flowers with three white petals.
Outdoors, the Tradescantia fluminensis plant is prone to become invasive, a pest plant, or a noxious weed (it’s capable of rooting at each node!) But when grown indoors, you get attractive and lush foliage that will adorn any hanging basket in your home.
Tradescantia fluminensis Variegata
The fluminensis variegata species has variegated leaves that are often seen in color shades of white, cream, or pale yellow. Although most white parts of the leaves don’t stay white for long because they can’t produce energy in that color.
If you notice your Tradescantia fluminensis Variegata with full white leaves, you can remove them to allow new variegated patterns to energy. If you notice full green leaves, immediately remove them so the color does not overtake the whole plant. This is how you keep your plants variegated.
Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Lavender’
This tradescantia fluminensis or spiderwort plant showcases a pretty color of lavender. The key to keeping the dainty color of this houseplant is to provide access to very bright, indirect light. Low light will send it producing green leaves.
For aspiring fluminensis collectors, this family of houseplants needs you to keep a consistent water schedule. An irregular watering cycle can damage the leaves. But the tradescantia is a forgiving houseplant. While the damaged leaves may never recover, good hydration after a period of neglect will still ensure new growth.
T. mundula Laekenensis Rainbow or Tricolor
This Tradescantia species is a constant favorite among many gardeners. From the looks alone, you’ll understand why many enjoy growing the Tradescantia tricolor. The sought-after houseplant has pink, white, green variegation. The tricolor leaves can sometimes look like blooming flowers. And while they are absolutely pretty, they are also easy to care for.
Pinch back the green stems of your tricolor so you can give the other colors a chance to grow. Provide an adequate amount of light, but make sure it’s not too bright.
Honestly, if you only want to keep one species of tradescantia, the tricolor is the houseplant I’d recommend for you!
T. Sillamontana Matuda (White Velvet)
When I was given cuttings of this tradescantia, I was at a loss to what it was and most of my friends and family were unsure what to ID it. The Tradescantia White Velvet has a furry-looking leaf that looks like cobwebs. The stems are thick and sturdy, and the houseplant is of the drought-tolerant species, surviving for long periods without water. What could this plant species be?
Imagine my joy and amusement when I find out it was a tradescantia, family to the spiderwort. I got even more excited when hot pink flowers began to bloom. If you’re looking for a statement plant that’s slightly different and unique, Tradescantia White Velvet is the choice.
T. blossfeldiana (cerinthoides) variegata (smooth form) – ‘Lilac’
Not all of the tradescantia species are easy to grow, some demand just a bit of attention and tears. The lilac or bubblegum plant is one of them.
Water damage is the most common cause of death for this plant, so be careful and avoid any drop of water on the leaves of this plant. Provide access to filtered light like the east window, and let it be. Water only when the soil is dry.
T. pallida ‘Pale Puma’
With the shape of its leaves and the deep shades of purple, this houseplant serves looks. It can easily be a perfect addition to your Halloween decor, but it’s also a pretty plant for a statement centerpiece. Whichever way you want to display it, the pallida pale puma species only needs good bright light. And then you’ve got a gorgeous plant all year long.
T. pallida ‘Purple Heart’
The first time the purple heart caught my attention was when it was landscaped as a ground cover with its rich deep purple leaves set against bright green groundcover plants. Emerging from the thick purple leaves are purple stems with pale pink flowers blooming at the tips. The vibrant purple color of the plants happens under full sun exposure. That’s why I recommend that you grow the purple heart as edging and border fronts for your outdoors.
T. ohiensis (Ohio Spiderwort)
This spiderwort does not look like its tradescantia family. Its leaves are long and arching which resemble grass. it’s also reported that the leaves are edible and can be eaten fresh or cooked. But what makes this spiderwort really special is the clumps and clusters of blue flowers atop their stem. They bloom throughout the season adorning country gardens with beautiful flowers.
T. Spathacea (Rhoeo Oyster)
The Rhoeo Oyster is for tradescantia collectors who prefer bigger leaves. Unlike the trailing and cascading style of the other spiderwort plants, the rhoeo oyster is arranged in a rosette shape. The leaves are a striping of purplish pink, green, and white. Care for the rhoeo plant is much simpler – the key is to water only when the soil is completely dry.
With a common name of Fantasy Venice, the tradescantia albiflora ‘Nanouk’ took plant influencers by storm. This type of spiderwort plant is perhaps the most visually aesthetic, developed, and patented in the Netherlands to be colorful and easy to grow.
it’s a trailing vine that’s thicker, showier, more vigorous, and lush. The Nanouk under bright, indirect light will show pink, white, and green stripe patterns. It can bloom white and yellow flowers too!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Why does the spiderwort need bright indirect light?
Most spiderwort plants cannot stand direct sun exposure. The leaves will fade, turn brown, burn, or die. The ideal sun exposure for most spiderwort plants is a slightly shaded light.
How do I care for my Tradescantia?
Spiderwort plants or tradescantias are very easy to care for. Most spiderwort or inch plants require indirect light. Slightly moist but well-drained soil and above-average humidity.
Is Tradescantia an indoor plant?
The inch plant thrives well in an environment with temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees. They do not need full sun to survive, and some species have sensitive leaves. They are also invasive if not grown indoors. Thus, they are better as indoor plants.
Is Tradescantia poisonous to humans?
Some species and varieties are toxic and poisonous to kids, adults, and pets. The inch plant’s sap is recorded to cause dermatitis and an upset stomach if ingested. Consult your care provider immediately.
How often should I water Tradescantia?
The roots of the inch plant or spiderwort do not like to be sitting in soggy soil. Most varieties are drought-tolerant. It’s best to water only when the soil is dry.
Where can I get these plants?
You might be able to checkout Etsy, where they have numerous sellers selling cuttings of different types of Tradescantia plants.