9 Varieties of Spiderwort | Tradescantia Types

Tradescantia, commonly known as spiderwort, are a genus of around 75 species. They are herbaceous, evergreen perennials that adopt either an erect or trailing habit. These species are primarily native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. 

During the blooming season, they produce delicate, 3-petaled flowers that may be white, blue, pink or purple in color. Their foliage is even more enthralling and may be striped, vividly colored or hairy. 

This article covers some of my favorite spiderwort species alongside a description and care tips for each. Read on to discover which spiderwort is ideal for you. 

Types of Tradescantia 

Once you know what to look for, identifying spiderworts is not too tricky. There are a few different categories they can be divided into, based on their morphology and growing habits:

Erect

Some species of Tradescantia – such as Prarie and Cobweb have an erect habit. They have thick, upright stems and sturdy leaves and are ideal for filler or border plants. 

Trailing

Some types of Tradescantia have a trailing habit so make ideal houseplants if potted in contained or suspended from hanging baskets. I especially love the Purple Heart species with its colorful, patterned leaves as they make for such an eye-catching display. 

Indoor

Generally, most Tradescantia are grown as houseplants. They thrive at temperatures between 60oF and 80oF. Their dazzling foliage and tangle of stems have the ability to brighten up any room. You will need to prune it regularly to maintain an ideal size. 

Outdoor

Hardy types can be grown outdoors, and it is a habit of many to wander and quickly spread if not pruned. Mild climates that don’t drop below 50oF are best when growing Tradescantia outdoors. 

Some species such as the Chain plant are more tolerant of mild frost and cold. However, they will need to be brought indoors over the winter months. 

Patterned Leaves 

Tradescantia is typically grown for its foliage rather than its small flowers. Some of the most popular species are those with striped pink, white and green leaves, such as Moses in the cradle. Others, like the cobweb spiderwort, create texture through their fuzzy leaves. 

9 Varieties of Tradescantia 

Of the 9 varieties of spiderwort on this list, some are better suited to outdoor environments whilst others make excellent houseplants. Each species on the list boasts a unique look, so there will certainly be something for everyone. 

1. Small Leaf Spiderwort

Small Leaf Spiderwort
Credit: E-190 by CC: 3.0

Scientific Name: Tradescantia fluminensis

  • Ideal Position: Filtered sun to light shade 
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 12 

The small leaf spiderwort is a ground cover perennial. It has pale green foliage that is soft and hairless. During the summer, clusters of small, white flowers appear on the end of the stems. 

These plants can be grown outdoors during the warm summer months but also make excellent houseplants. Choose a location with plenty of filtered sunlight for ideal growing conditions.

Small leaf spiderworts require constantly moist soil and won’t do well under dry conditions. They thrive under humid conditions and love regular misting. 

2. Inch Plant 

Inch Plant 
Credit: Maja Dumat by CC: 2.0

Scientific Name: Tradescantia zebrina 

  • Ideal Position: Indirect sun to partial shade 
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic to cats and dogs 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11

The inch plant, also known as the wandering Jew, is a herbaceous perennial that is commonly grown as a houseplant for its attractive foliage. It has green and white striped leaves with purple undersides, creating a striking appearance. 

Periodically throughout the year, the inch plant will produce delicate pink flowers. 

To maintain defined leaf stripes, it’s best to give this plant plenty of indirect sunlight. They are not too picky about their soil so long as it is kept moist and is rich in nutrients. 

Inch plants look stunning in hanging baskets or draped across shelves and bookcases. Leggy stems can be pruned to encourage new and full growth. 

3. Prairie Spiderwort 

Prairie Spiderwort 
Credit: Jean-Pol Grandmont by CC: 3.0

Scientific Name: Tradescantia occidentalis

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade 
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic 
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 9 

Prairie spiderwort is an erect perennial that can grow up to 3 feet tall. It has slender stems and long, narrow green leaves. During the summer, this plant produces small clusters of 3 petaled blue-purple flowers. 

The prairie spiderwort is a hardy plant that grows vigorously outside. Its flower production will be highest in the full sun. It favours moist and fertile soils and is fairly tolerant to drought and poor soils. 

4. Moses in the Cradle 

Moses in the Cradle 
Credit: Mokkie by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Tradescantia spathacea 

  • Ideal Position: Bright, indirect sunlight 
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Toxic to humans and animals
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 12

Moses in the cradle is also known as an oyster plant and boat lily. It is characterized by its waxy, elongated leaves. They are glossy green and white striped on top and vibrant magenta underneath and these pink hues are positively correlated to the amount of sunlight the plant receives. 

Due to its showy foliage, this plant is grown primarily for its leaves, rather than its flowers. It blooms tiny, white flowers that are difficult to see as they are nestled near the stem between the leaves. 

Moses in the cradle grows best in acidic soil that is loose but moisture-retaining. This plant may be grown as a ground cover or border plant outside, or alternatively as a houseplant. It can cause skin irritation and nausea if induced by animals or people. 

5. Cobweb Spiderwort

Cobweb Spiderwort
Credit: Averater by CC: 4.0
  • Ideal Position: Partial shade  
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic to cats and dogs
  • USDA Zones: 7 to 10

The cobweb spiderwort is an erect, evergreen plant. It gets its name from the cobweb-like silver hairs that cover its green leaves. During the summer, this plant produces pink-purple flowers that persist for around a month. 

Despite being native to Northeastern Mexico, cobweb spiderwort grows best in partial shade under cooler climates. It prefers acidic, moist and well-draining soil. When grown outdoors, it makes an excellent ground cover plant. It is mildly toxic to cats and dogs. 

6. Purple Heart

Purple Heart

Scientific Name: Tradescantia pallida

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade  
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Toxic to humans and pets
  • USDA Zones: 10 to 11

The purple heart is so-called due to its purple, elongated leaves. It is an evergreen perennial often grown as a groundcover plant outside. 

During the summer months delicate, pink flowers emerge between the foliage. This plant has a trailing habit so works particularly well in containers. 

Purple heart plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight and are fairly winter-hardy. This plant can be grown in a range of soil pHs but favours moist, loamy soil. 

If ingested, purple hearts can be toxic to humans and animals and can cause an oral burning sensation. It is best to wear gloves when handling this plant as contact may cause dermatitis. 

7. Virginia Spiderwort

Virginia Spiderwort
Credit: Fritzflohrreynolds by CC: 3.0

Scientific Name: Tradescantia virginiana

  • Ideal Position: Full sun to partial shade  
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic
  • USDA Zones: 4 to 9

Virginia spiderwort is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial. It has erect stems and elongated, arching leaves. 

Between spring and summer, small clusters of blue-purple flowers emerge among the foliage. Each flower only blooms for a day but there is an abundance of staggered buds to make up for it.

Under optimum growing conditions, Virginia spiderwort can quickly spread. It is a great plant for beds and borders. All parts of this plant are edible, but the leaves and flowers are the most used. This plant thrives in a variety of soil types so long as it is moist. 

8. Flowering Inch Plant

Flowering Inch Plant
Credit: HQ by CC: 2.0

Scientific Name: Tradescantia cerithiodes

  • Ideal Position: Partial sun to partial shade  
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Mildly toxic to cats and dogs 
  • USDA Zones: 8 to 12

The flowering inch plant belongs to the dayflower family and is native to Brazil and Argentina. It has waxy leaves that are green on top and red-purple underneath. Intermittently throughout the year, this plant produces delicate pink and white flowers. 

Bright, indirect light is best for the flowering inch plant. Ensure the soil is kept moist and the climate is slightly humid. This plant can be grown indoors, outdoors, in pots or in the ground.

Like most Tradescantia, the sap contained in the flowering inch plant’s leaves can be mildly toxic. 

9. Chain Plant

Chain Plant
Credit: Salicyna by CC: 4.0

Scientific Name: Tradescantia navicularis

  • Ideal Position: Partial sun to partial shade  
  • Difficulty: Easy to care for 
  • Toxicity: Non-toxic 
  • USDA Zones: 9 to 11

Also known as widow’s tears or the dayflower, the chain plant exhibits two stem types. Some are short and covered in tightly overlapping leaves. Others are long and trailing and bear open leaves. Its leaves are thick, waxy and pointed. They are green on top and purple underneath. 

During the summer, small, bright pink flowers emerge from the top of the stems. These flowers open in the morning and die back by the afternoon, hence the alternative name of dayflower. 

To keep your chain plant happy ensure it has moist soil, bright, indirect light and a warm, humid environment. They can be grown as both indoor and outdoor plants. 

Tradescantia Plant Care 

To help keep your spiderwort plant looking and feeling its best, I have provided you with some of my top care tips. Most Tradescantia have similar care requirements, so this guide can be applied to any species from the list above. 

Watering Requirements

Spiderwort plants love moisture. It is best to follow a regular watering schedule to keep the soil evenly moist. Deep watering may be required occasionally during the winter months. Let the topsoil dry slightly between watering to avoid overwatering. 

Ensure the plant has loose soil and is planted in pots with drainage holes to let excess water escape. Spiderwort does not like getting their leaves wet, so be sure to avoid dampening the leaves and aim close to the soil.

Position

Bright but indirect sunlight is generally best for spiderworts. Sufficient light will result in vibrant leaf coloration and flowers. Low light levels may result in slow and leggy growth. 

Avoid too much direct sunlight as this can scorch the leaves and dry out the plant. Position these plants somewhere that will provide them with protection from the harsh sun and frosts. 

Temperature and Humidity

Native to tropical and subtropical regions, spiderwort has been cultivated to be grown in more temperate locations. They favour more humid environments, such as bathrooms and kitchens. These plants also love occasional misting. Spiderwort does best indoors at temperatures between 60oF and 80oF. 

Soil Type

Generally, spiderwort are not too fussy about their soil type or pH. They will thrive in most conditions so long as the soil is kept moist but is well draining. Mixing a moisture retainer such as peat moss into the potting soil can help it stay damp. 

Feeding

Although not necessary, spiderwort like most plants, will benefit from feeding. A general houseplant fertilizer will be sufficient as they tend to be rich in nitrogen, an element required for growth and maintaining lush leaves. Feed monthly during the spring and summer. 

Propagation

Spiderwort is very easy to propagate from stem cuttings. Identify a healthy stem a few inches long with some leaf nodes. Cut just below a node and remove the bottom leaves. 

Transfer your cuttings into a jar of water, replace the water weekly and then transfer them to potting soil once the roots have emerged. Roots will develop within a couple of weeks.

FAQ Tradescantia Types

Are Tradescantia edible?

Some species such as Virginia spiderwort, are entirely edible. The leaves can be used for teas whilst the flowers for salad garnishes. However, many Tradescantia species are toxic to humans and animals if ingested.  

Do Tradescantia plants flower?

The majority of Tradescantia produce flowers; however, they are small and delicate. As such, these plants tend to be grown for their unique foliage rather than their blooms. 

Citations 

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.