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Tradescantia virginiana (Virginia spiderwort)
Muller, Thomas L.

Tradescantia virginiana

Tradescantia virginiana L.

Virginia Spiderwort, Spider Lily

Commelinaceae (Spiderwort Family)

Synonym(s): Ephemerum congestum, Tradescantia brevicaulis, Tradescantia congesta, Tradescantia rupestris, Tradescantia speciosa, Tradescantia virginiana var. alba, Tradescantia virginiana var. barbata


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 I of England.

Tradescantia species will hybridize in just about any combination.


From the Image Gallery

21 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Herb
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Venation: Parallel
Leaf Margin: Entire
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Usually around 2 feet tall.
Leaf: Green
Flower: Flowers 1 to 2 inches across

Bloom Information

Bloom 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.


USA: AL , CA , CT , DC , DE , GA , IA , IL , IN , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MO , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: ON
Native Distribution: W. CT to WI, s. to GA, TN & e. MO; escaped in New England
Native Habitat: Meadows; open woods; limestone outcrops

Growing Conditions

Water 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.


Use 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
Attracts: Butterflies
Nectar Source: yes

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees
Special Value to Bumble Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


Propagation Material: 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: yes
Maintenance: 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.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Texas Discovery Gardens - Dallas, TX
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 928 - 100 easy-to-grow native plants for Canadian gardens (2005) Johnson, L.; A. Leyerle
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 1294 - The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.
Bibref 328 - Wildflowers of Texas (2003) Ajilvsgi, Geyata.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1987 VOL. 4, NO.1 - One Million Bequest Announced, Lady Bird Johnson On Celebrating Four Years, Spri...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Tradescantia virginiana in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Tradescantia virginiana in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Tradescantia virginiana


Record Modified: 2021-01-28
Research By: TWC Staff

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