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Martin, Edwin M.
Tradescantia virginiana L.
Virginia spiderwort, Spider lily
Synonym(s): Ephemerum congestum, Tradescantia brevicaulis, Tradescantia congesta, Tradescantia rupestris, Tradescantia speciosa, Tradescantia virginiana var. alba, Tradescantia virginiana var. barbata
USDA Symbol: TRVI
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (I)
Virginia spiderwort is a large but dainty perennial to 3 ft. with long, bright-green, narrow leaves. The thick clump of slender, branched stalks are topped by groups of blue or purplish, three-petaled flowers up to 2 in. across. Spiderwort flowers close by mid-day and last only one day. Blue-violet (sometimes white) flowers with showy, yellow stamens in a terminal cluster above a pair of long, narrow, leaf-like bracts.
Spiderworts are so named because the angular leaf arrangement suggests a squatting spider. The flowers open only in the morning; the petals then wilt and turn to a jelly-like fluid. Each hair on the stamens of this showy spiderwort consists of a chain of thin-walled cells; the hairs are a favorite subject for microscopic examination in biology classes because the flowing cytoplasm and nucleus can be seen easily. Other spiderworts with similar structure are Zigzag Spiderwort (T. subaspera), found from Virginia south to Florida and west to Missouri and Illinois, with blue flowers and a zigzag stem to 3 feet (90 cm) high; Ohio Spiderwort or Bluejacket (T. ohiensis), occurring from Massachusetts to Florida and throughout the Midwest, with rose to blue flowers and whitish bloom on the hairless stem and leaves; and Hairy-stemmed Spiderwort (T. hirsuticaulis), a hairy plant with light blue flowers, found from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Texas.
The genus is named after John Tradescant (1608-1662) who served as gardener to Charles 1 of England.
Tradescantia species will hybridize in just about any combination.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Herb Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Complexity: Simple Leaf Venation: Parallel Leaf Margin: Entire Size Notes:
Usually around 2 feet tall. Leaf:
Flowers 1 to 2 inches across
Fruit: Size Class:
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White , Blue , Purple
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul , Aug
Bloom Notes: Flowers typically blue to lavender but occasionally white. Bloom period normally from early spring to June.
, WV Canada: ON Native Distribution:
s. to GA, TN
& e. MO; escaped in New England Native Habitat:
Meadows; open woods; limestone outcrops
Growing ConditionsWater Use: Low , Medium
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Very adaptable plant prefers humus-rich soil but will grow in a wide range of soils: moist/dry, clay/sand, acid/alkaline.
Conditions Comments: Juglones tolerant.
BenefitUse Ornamental: Attractive seasonal color for a shady or sunny area.
Use Wildlife: Attracts bees.
Warning: POISONOUS PARTS: Leaves. Minor skin irritation if touched. Symptoms include skin irritation with redness and itching, but of low risk. Toxic Principle: Unidentified, possibly oxalate crystals. (Poisonous Plants of N.C.)
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Nectar Source: yes
Root Division , Seeds Description:
Seeds sown fresh outdoors germinate in two weeks. Alternatively, seeds may be stored over winter and sown after a period of cold-moist treatment. A faster method of propagation is divide a large clump into several pieces. Divide in early fall or very e Seed Collection:
The small light-green capsule,
surrounded by three green bracts is mature 2-3 weeks after flowering. A few days prior to splitting, the capsule
becomes dry and papery. Collecting seeds is easiest by tying a small bag around the unsplit capsule. Store in sealed, refrigerated containers. Seed Treatment:
Cold-moist stratify. Commercially Avail:
Under favorable conditions, these plants spread so rapidly by seed that they may need to be controlled. By dividing the plants every second year and by regular removal of slumping stalks (which root at the nodes when in contact with soil), the plants can be confined. Deadheading will encourage a second flowering in late summer.
National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Record Last Modified: 2013-09-09
Research By: TWC Staff