Spiderwort

Pictured above: Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) by Emily Bell. Click on terms for botanical definitions. View post as a PDF.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) is an erect perennial wildflower that occurs in open woodlands, disturbed sites and urban areas. Of Florida’s four native Tradescantia species, it is the most common and is highly adaptable. It blooms spring through summer and reseeds readily.

Spiderwort’s showy, bluish-purple flowers are three-petaled and born in clusters atop branched stems. Flowers are most commonly blue or purple, but can also be pink or white. Each flower has six dark bluish-purple stamens; the filaments are covered with sticky hairs and the anthers are bright yellow. Individual flowers are  ephemeral, only opening for one day. Leaves are simple, light green and strap-like, giving the plant a grassy appearance, particularly when not in bloom.

Spiderwort flowers. Photo by Emily Bell
Spiderwort stems and leaves. Photo by Emily Bell

Spiderwort is quite the powerhouse plant. Not only a great nectar source for bees, it is also edible for us! Try the flowers fresh on a salad or candied for a sweet treat. Stems and leaves can be eaten raw and leaves can also be cooked. The leaves are mucilaginous; the “juice” can be used to soothe insect bites in the same way one would use aloe. The stamens in a Spiderwort flower can even detect radiation. Low level exposure will turn the bluish filament hairs on the stamen pink!

Family: Commelinaceae (Dayflower family)
Native range: Nearly throughout Panhandle, North and Central Florida
To see where natural populations of Spiderwort have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Lifespan: Perennial
Soil: Dry to moderately most, well-drained soils
Exposure: Full sun to light shade
Growth habit: 1–2’ tall
Propagation: Seed, division
Florida regions of landscape suitability: North, Central
Garden tips: Spiderwort is a great addition to any landscape because it can bloom year-round in many parts of Florida. To keep plants looking healthy, cut them back in late summer (or when they appear to stop blooming). They will bounce back in fall. Spiderwort spreads easily, but if kept under control, it can be used as a border plant. It is striking in mass when in bloom.

Spiderwort is available from nurseries that specialize in Florida native plants. Visit www.plantrealflorida.org to find a nursery in your area.

Learn more about Spiderwort from the Florida Native Plant Society and the Institute for Regional Conservation.