Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

Tradescantia ohiensis is a common wildflower that appears in many gardens.  Bright blue flowers with three petals open in the morning and wither away after a few hours. Less common colors are white, pink, and violet. Individual flowers are about an inch across. They bloom most of the year in the warmer parts of its range.  They are drought-tolerant and will grow in full sun to light shade. Leaves are long and narrow (up to 15 inches long). They have a clumping growth habit up to two foot tall.
There are several species throughout the U.S. and they readily hybridize so if you live in an area with more than one species there may be some intermediate varieties.  The flower stems of this particular species are smooth and hairless.  Tradescantia ohiensis may be found throughout the eastern half of the U.S. --USDA Zones 5-10 (or as far north as Zone 3, depending on which website you believe).
Of particular interest are the numerous, fuzzy, blue hairs on the stamens.  These mutate at a cellular level and turn pink when exposed to low levels of nuclear radiation!
(Click to enlarge)
Spiderwort is rarely bothered by insects but may be fed on by Whitetail deer, Cottontail rabbits, and box turtles. 
The Cherokee peoples used Spiderwort in a tea for digestive problems and would rub the crushed leaves on insect bites or stings.  The leaves and stems are edible fresh or cooked.  The flower petals can be candied or added to salads for interesting color.
This is a great low-maintenance perennial flower with a long bloom season, that can warn you of radiation exposure, and it's edible too!
Read the original radiation research on this plant here.


Kimberly said...

They're so pretty. I love the closeup! It's incredible to see all the details that we otherwise miss if we don't stop to look closely.

Kimberly said...

I wanted to add that the change in color of the hairs when exposed to radiation is particularly interesting. Also, why the name? Is it due to it's use for insect bites? I wonder.

NellJean said...

I allow the wild ones to grow at the back of one of my long beds because they bloom in the time between the daffodils and the spring annuals. When they look ratty, I whack them back to the ground as prettier things are coming on.

NanaK said...

When I first encountered spiderwort in my shady and damp garden I thought it was a weed and I fought this weed for 20 years. Then, I went to a native plant sale and saw pots of my weed selling for $8.00. Funny how seeing a monetary value placed on it changed spiderwort from weed to native plant in my mind. I now carefully dig up strays to enlarge clumps so they show up better. I actually cultivate them. Interesting to know about the stamen hairs indicating radiation. I'll have to run outside and check on that!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

A beautiful deep blue flower. I haven't seen spiderwort in person, but your photographs are lovely!

Floridagirl said...

I'm quite happy to see a post on spiderwort. I have been admiring them on my son's property for some time and recently dug up 12 specimens. I planted them in a spot in the yard where St. Augustine grass has struggled. I was wondering if you could tell me if this plant will become weedy and pop up in good areas of grass and my other beds as well.

Grower Jim said...

Kimberly: I found various reasons (guesses) for the name. One was for its use in treating spider bites, another was because the way the leaves bend and flop down in the middle makes the plant look like a squatting spider, and lastly because the sap from the stems can be stretched out to look like a spider web! You can take your pick!

NellJean: When we Floridians whack them back in late summer, we can get a nice fall bloom too!

NanaK: You know what they say about weeds: It's just a plant growing in the wrong place!

Floridagirl: They do spread by seed so you'll probably find them popping up where you least expect. Mine seem to prefer growing in the lawn better than in the flower beds!

Anonymous said...

do you think they will grow in entral californian? We now have radiation worries.

Grower Jim said...

Anonymous: It seems like they should grow there. They tolerate a wide range of climatic conditions.

Anonymous said...

All round incredibly written article!!!

Coffee to Compost said...

I'm thinking about planting some in a shady spot where nothing else seems to grow. They seem pretty hardy and if I get a few flowers, even better!

Grower Jim said...

They'll thrive just about anywhere!


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