Spiderwort Plant Profile

Spiderwort plant on a mantel

The Spruce / Krystal Slagle

The gardening world has many examples where a single common name is associated with more than one plant species, and such is the case with the houseplant we know as wandering Jew. This name is used for several different plant species within the Tradescantia genus. This genus includes at least 75 different herbaceous perennial species, including some regarded as noxious weeds and some as prized outdoor garden plants (the garden spiderworts). Three species are grown primarily as indoor houseplants and they are generally known as wandering Jew plants. This common name is thought to derive from the plant's habit to migrate to wet, moist regions. Like the garden varieties of Tradescantia, the houseplant varieties produce flowers with three petals, although they are not particularly showy in these species. Blooms are white, pink, or purple, depending on species and variety, and appear regularly.

closeup of a wandering Jew plant
The Spruce / Krystal Slagle
Botanical Name Tradescantia fluminensis, T. pallida, T. zebrina
Common Name Wandering Jew plant, striped wandering Jew (T. zebrina), inch plant, flowering inch plant, wandering Willie (T. fluminensis), purple queen (T. pallida), spiderwort
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial; normally grown as a houseplant
Mature Size 6 to 9 inches in height, 12 to 24 inches in spread
Sun Exposure Bright, indirect sun
Soil Type Moderately moist potting soil
Soil pH Grows in all soils
Bloom Time Flowers freely at all times
Flower Color Varies depending on species; pink, rose-purple, or white
Hardiness Zones 9 to 12 (USDA); grown as a houseplant everywhere
Native Area Mexico, South America, Central America, Caribbean

How to Grow Spiderwort Plants

Spiderwort is one of the easiest houseplants to grow. (It is almost too easy to grow as a garden plant within its hardiness zone where it is sometimes considered invasive).

The most difficult aspect of growing Spiderwort plants as houseplants is achieving the right moisture level. This plant likes moist soil but does not like being soggy. Make sure to plant it in well-drained potting soil because the roots can easily develop rot if they are too wet. Mixing a bit of sand into a commercial potting soil that has an ample amount of organic material is a good solution.

Spiderwort plant is best suited for hanging containers, and it needs a location with plenty of indirect natural light. These plants can become leggy and scraggly with large sections of bare stems unless they are pinched back regularly to keep them bushy. They do not require much in the way of feeding.

Even with the best of care, Spiderwort plants are somewhat short-lived; within a few years they become leggy and scraggly. Fortunately, they are very easy to propagate from small stem cuttings.

Light

Spiderwort plants do best in bright but indirect sun. Without enough light, the variegation of the leaves begins to fade. Too much sun, though, can cause the leaves to scorch.

Soil

This plant can grow well with ordinary potting soil if it is not over-watered, and it prefers a soil that drains well. Mixing a small amount of sand into commercial potting soil is ideal.

Water

This plant does well if kept moist but not soggy. It should be watered weekly in the summer, less frequently in the winter.

Temperature and Humidity

Any of the species of Spiderwort plant will thrive at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit but will also do fine in warmer temperatures. However, temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit might discolor or damage its leaves.

Fertilizer

The plant doesn't require much, if any, feeding. At most, use a water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half strength, applied bimonthly. More aggressive feeding can cause the plant's leaves to lose their variegation.

Potting and Repotting

Spiderwort plants do not die if they are not repotted, but they will benefit from potting up to the next larger container size once each year.

Propagating Spiderwort Plants

This is a very easy plant to propagate. Simply take a one-inch piece of stem containing at least one leaf and set it in fresh potting soil. No rooting hormone is necessary. Regular watering will encourage a fully rooted new plant within a few weeks.

Varieties of Spiderwort Plant

  • T. pallida 'Purple Heart' features solid purple foliage.
  • T. Zebrina pendula is a slightly more colorful version of Zebrina with reddish leaves.
  • T. Callisia is another species and features bold white stripes.
tradescantia pallida
Amphawan Chanunpha / Getty Images
Tradescantia Zebrina
Pierre-Yves Babelon / Getty Images

Pruning

Spiderwort is an aggressively growing plant that can get overly leggy with bare lower stems. Cutting the stems back to a joint will encourage the plant to grow wider and bushier. To avoid legginess, regularly pinch back the stems by at least 25 percent.

Common Problems

The most common problem with Spiderwort plants is root rot, usually caused by overwatering or by planting in soil that is too high in organic material. Mix a handful of sand or perlite into the potting soil mix before planting.

Aphids and spider mites are the most common insect pests. They can usually be washed off with a spray water.

Low temperatures or too much fertilizer can cause leaves to lose their variegation. Too much direct sun can cause leaf scorch.