Purple heart (Tradescantia pallida) is aptly named because its iconic purple stems grow beautiful blooms that range from violet to pink. However, despite its unique blooms, many gardeners choose this 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. A plant will bloom with three-petaled pink flowers in small clusters throughout the warm season.
Considered an easy-to-grow evergreen perennial, the purple heart plant can add a pop of gorgeous purple color to your garden year after year. However, its aggressive root system helps it spread quickly as a groundcover. The plant is not considered invasive in the United States, but it is elsewhere in the world. It's a member of the spiderwort family, which grows in both tropical and temperate regions and includes 40 genera and 652 species.
Widely commercialized as a house plant as well as for outdoor gardens, the tradescantia pallida (sometimes also called "purpurea") is long-jointed, sprawling, and an ideal groundcover plant for anyone who loves a purple garden. Let it naturally spring back to life after the frost, or plant in the spring for summer sprawl.
|Botanical Name||Tradescantia pallida|
|Common Name||Purple-heart plant, wandering Jew, purple secretia|
|Mature Size||14 in. tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Lightweight, moist, well-drained|
|Hardiness Zones||7 to 10 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Mildly toxic to humans and animals|
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. The plant will typically reach anywhere from 8 to 14 inches tall and 16 inches wide (although it can spread out about 5 feet). 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.
Potential gardeners should be aware that purple heart flowers are known to form dense groundcovers, which can prevent the germination and establishment of other plants. However, the plants can add a lush and tropical ground cover 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 not in the United States.
Planting your purple hearts in full sun can help ensure that they grow the boldest and 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. Though most commercial potting mixes will work just fine, the soil should ideally include peat moss, perlite, and compost. However, you'll just want to be sure that there are drainage holes on the bottom of the container or pot when planting indoors, as too much water retained by the soil can lead to root rot.
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. The average household humidity of 40 to 50 percent creates an ideal growing condition for the plant. 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.
Is Purple Heart Toxic?
If the sap of purple heart is ingested, it can cause mild mouth discomfort. The foliage may also result in skin irritation. Wear gloves when handling the plant or wash your hands after coming in contact with it.
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 when all of the flowers have bloomed. Be sure to use sharp scissors and gloves. Aim to take off the top half of the stems that have become overgrown.
Propagating Purple Heart
Purple heart can be propagated best via division, stem cutting, and transplanting. Take a cutting from any part of the plant. Put the node into moist potting mix or in water until it roots, and then transplant to the ground or planter.
Potting and Repotting Purple Heart
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.
This is a tough plant that only attracts caterpillars and snails when grown outdoors. Place a layer of gravel, wood chips, or diatomaceous earth as a protective barrier around the plants to keep the little critters away.