University of Maryland Extension

Tradescantia virginiana (spiderwort)

By: Ginny Rosenkranz, Extension Educator, University of Maryland Extension, Eastern Shore

Tradescantia virginiana, spiderwort, is an herbaceous perennial with a very unusual name. There are a few stories on how the plant got its name, but it could be the spidery-looking stamens in the center of each flower.

Spiderworts thrive in full sun and moist but well drained soils. Plants grow up to 2 feet tall and wide. It is a great example of a monocot, with long strap-like leaves and flowers that have 3 petals, 3 sepals and 6 stamens. The leaves are a dark olive green with parallel veins and a smooth margin. After the flowers are finished blooming, the foliage often fades out, but if trimmed back to 8-12 inches in midsummer, it will rejuvenate. The flower buds are in clusters at the end of the stems and each one-inch flower stays open for one day only, being replaced by other buds opening the next day. Flowering will continue for 6-8 weeks, and again in the fall if the foliage has been trimmed back.

Growing from USDA zone 4-9, spiderworts come in many colors from blues and purples to bright reds and pure white. Some cultivars are ‘Bilberry Ice’, a white blooming flower with a blue tint on the margin and a dark purple stripe up the center of the petal and fuzzy purple stamens tipped with yellow pollen and ‘Snowcap’, a pure white flower that grows 2 ½ - 3 inches across. ‘Red Cloud’ has rosy red flowers while ‘Concord Grape’ and ‘J.C. Weguelin’ have bright blue to purple flowers. ‘Sweet Kate’ has chartreuse yellow foliage and bright blue flowers and does best with some afternoon sun to prevent the light colored foliage from getting sun scorch.

Aphids and spider mites can damage both the foliage and the flowers, while some viruses can be problematic.

Photo: Adult syrphid flies pollinate spiderwort flowers; the larvae feed on small insects such as aphids.
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