Wandering Jew (Spiderwort) Plant Profile

Tradescantia zebrina up-close

Mokkie/via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The gardening world has many examples where a single common name is slapped on 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, some as prized outdoor garden plants (the garden spiderworts), and three of them are as widely used mostly as indoor houseplants. These are the ones generally known as wandering Jew plants. The common name is thought to derive from the plant's habit to migrate to wet, moist regions. Like the garden varieties ofTradescantia, the houseplant varieties have 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.

  • 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 Wandering Jew Plants

This 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 thing about growing wandering Jew plants as houseplants is getting the moisture levels right. This is a plant that likes moist soil but abhors being soggy. Make sure to plant it in well-drained potting soil, as 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.

Wandering Jew 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, wandering Jew 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

Wandering Jew 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 well with ordinary potting soil if it is not over-watered, but 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 wandering Jew plant will thrive at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but will also do fine in warmer temperatures. However, below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the leaves may become discolored or damaged.

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

Wandering Jew 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 Wandering Jew 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 Wandering Jew 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, this one with bold white stripes.

Pruning

Wandering Jew is an aggressively growing plant that can get overly leggy, with bare lower stems. Cutting the stems back to a joint will curtail the scraggly appearance and cause the plant to become wider and bushier. Regular pinch the stems back by at least 25 percent.

Common Problems

The most common problem with wandering Jew 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 simply washed off with water.

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