July 11, 2015
Spiderworts, whose botanical name is Tradescantia, are a genus of approximately seventy-five species of perennial plants in the Commelinaceae plant family. Named for the English naturalist, gardener and explorer John Tradescant the elder (1570-1638) who traveled to far away lands in search of foreign flowers, the plant gets its common name because when its stems are cut or broken it secrets mucilage that hardens into web-like threads. The wort part of its name comes from the old English word for plant. The deer resistant and drought tolerant plant forms a dense, wide-spreading clump of weakly upright leaves, growing up to a height of three feet tall and three feet wide, depending on the variety. Some of the longer stems and leaves tend to sag, giving the plant an ungraceful look. However, for me, the exotic blooms of the Spiderwort more than make up for its ungraceful appearance. The individual leaves are blade-like, long and thin growing to a length of nearly twenty inches and come in a variety of different shades of green, ranging in color from blue-green to chartreuse.
Also commonly referred to as day-flowers because their blooms are open for less than a day, the flower’s delicate petals curl up during the afternoon heat. The flowers can remain open during cloudy days until evening. Composed of three sepals, three petals and six stamens, Spiderworts’ bright yellow anthers proudly stand upright in the middle of a fuzzy looking puffball of filaments that sit atop the triangular petals. The plant blooms during late spring through early summer, and the blossoms can be either purple, violet, pink or white, but are most commonly blue.
Native to the Americas, from as far north as southern Canada down to northern Argentina, including The West Indies, these flowers have become naturalized throughout parts of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. In the wild, North American Spiderworts are found in dry, sandy, sunny locales where they bloom in abundance for a short period of time, and also along the edges of wet woodlands where they can bloom for months. In the early years of the Seventeenth Century, Spiderworts were among the first native plants from the Americas to be introduced to European gardeners. An individual Spiderwort plant is self-sterile, in that by itself will not produce seeds, requiring a mate to do so.
Hardy in USDA zones three through ten,, Spiderworts are considered an easy to care for plant that prefers moist, well-drained, acidic (pH 5-6) soil, though it is adaptable to many different types of soil. The plant flowers best in full sun, however in regions with really hot summer days, partial shade is required. As summer days become longer and hotter, flowering comes to a stop and the plant may even go dormant. Spiderworts can re-bloom during cooler days of late summer and early fall if you cut the plant back by two-thirds after the blooming cycle ends, and by deadheading the spent blooms. Spiderworts should be divided every three or four years for propagation, either in the spring or early fall.
The type of Spiderwort shown in these photographs are Tradescantia Andersoniana. If I am fortunate to have you view my photographs and you find the color saturation too much or the color schemes of the mats do not match either themselves or the photograph, please let me know via a comment. Being color-blind, what might look great to me might look like sh*t to everyone else!
Steven H. Spring