Purple heart (Tradescantia pallida) is aptly named, because its iconic purple stems grow beautiful small flower clusters that range from violet to pink. However, despite its unique blooms, many gardeners choose this fast-growing plant for its foliage, which is particularly vibrant. Both the stems and upper surfaces of the leaves appear to be deep royal purple but may also contain lighter shades of turquoise-gray that become darker as the foliage grows older. This long-jointed, sprawling plant is an ideal groundcover for anyone who loves a purple garden.
In warm climates, it is grown as an evergreen perennial that adds a pop of gorgeous purple color to your garden year after year. In cooler climates, Tradescantia pallida is grown as an annual. It is also widely commercialized as a houseplant.
Like other species of the Tradescantia genus, purple heart is toxic to humans and toxic to pets, causing contact dermatitis.
|Common Name||Purple heart, purple secretia|
|Botanical Name||Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea'|
|Mature Size||12-18 in. tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic to alkaline (6 to 8)|
|Flower Color||Pink, purple|
|Hardiness Zones||7-10 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people, toxic to pets|
Purple Heart Care
Purple heart is often referred to as a “creeping perennial” due to the fact that it will spread out as it grows. Purple heart is considered to have a fairly fast rate of growth, especially when compared to other indoor plants. Its flowers will die off in the winter months.
Gardeners should be aware that purple heart flowers are known to form dense groundcover, which can prevent the germination and establishment of other plants. However, the plants can add a lush and tropical groundcover texture to any landscape. Downward trailing stems mean it will always stand out, even when planted as part of border fronts, wall plantings, and rock gardens.
Purple heart is considered to be invasive in certain parts of the world, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, and portions of Mexico, but it is not invasive in the United States.
Planting your purple hearts in full sun can help ensure that they grow the vibrant purple stems. The plant can also grow in partial shade, but its stem is more likely to appear green than purple.
It's best to introduce these plants to brighter conditions over time, however, as too much direct sunlight all at once can lead to foliage burn.
Purple heart plants will grow best in soil that's lightweight, porous, and moist. Good drainage is a must. The plant tolerates a wide pH range from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline.
Purple heart is considered to be drought-tolerant, and it will not require a great deal of watering. For best growth, however, it is best not to let the plant sit dry for long periods.
Aim to water the plant when the top layer of soil feels dry to the touch. You'll also want to stick to watering it during its blooming season. Keep in mind that younger plants will require more moisture than adults, and they should generally be watered at least weekly.
Temperature and Humidity
Purple heart can survive in an array of temperatures, but it's susceptible to frost. As a plant that grows naturally in tropical and subtropical locations, purple heart prefers high humidity. If your house has drier air, a humidifier can help, as can placing your plant in a bathroom or kitchen. Dry air will impact the leaves, rendering them limp.
The purple heart plant generally doesn't require fertilizer, although it can be used. Just be sure to dilute the solution to about half of its regular strength.
The plant grows long stems, and due to its fast growth rate, it can become leggy and spindly very quickly. You'll want to prune it during the warmer months after the bloom period is over. Be sure to use sharp scissors and wear gloves, as the sap in the stems can cause skin irritations and burns. Aim to take off the top half of the stems that have become overgrown.
Propagating Purple Heart
Purple heart can be easily propagated by stem cuttings.
- Cut a 3- to 6-inch-long piece from a healthy plant, using a sharp knife or pruners. The piece needs to have at least one growth node.
- Remove the leaves from the lower end of the cutting so that only a couple of leaves remain on the upper parts. You can dip the cut end of the stem in rooting hormone but because purple heart roots easily, that's not absolutely necessary (alternatively, you can also root the cutting in water and plant it in potting medium when you see roots).
- Fill a 4-inch pot with soilless potting medium and water it slowly until evenly moist.
- Using a pencil or a stick, poke a hole in the soil and insert the cutting in it so that the node is buried in the soil. Gently press down the soil around it.
- Place it in a bright location but out of direct sunlight. Water it regularly to keep the soil evenly moist at all times. After a few weeks, the cutting will root and you can transplant it into a larger pot or outdoors in garden soil.
Potting and Repotting Purple Heart
Though most commercial potting mixes will work just fine, the soil should ideally include peat moss (or coco coir, for a sustainable alternative), perlite, and compost. Make sure that there are drainage holes on the bottom of the container or pot, as too much water retained by the soil can lead to root rot.
Since this plant generally does not grow to be that large, it's commonly kept as a houseplant. It won't require frequent repotting, but it will need to be transferred to a new container if the roots begin to push through the drainage holes located on the underside of the pot. This will typically occur during spring due to its tendency to spread out during the growing season.
Common Pests & Diseases
This is a tough plant that attracts caterpillars and snails when grown outdoors.
However, it may also attract aphids, vine weevils, mealybugs, and scales. Place a layer of gravel, wood chips, or diatomaceous earth as a protective barrier around the plants to keep the little critters away.
Why is my purple heart plant turning green?
Most likely, it is not getting enough sunlight. The foliage needs sun to develop its striking purple color.
Is purple heart a succulent?
With its thick, fleshy leaves that retain water, purple heart is considered a succulent.
How do I prevent purple heart from becoming leggy?
For a more compact growth, pinch the tips of new stems. Make sure to wear gloves when you do this as the sap can cause allergic reactions.
Safe and Poisonous Garden Plants. University of California.
Tradescantia pallida 'Purple Heart'. North Carolina State Extension.