Wildflower Tale-Spiderwort


Love is like wildflowers; It’s often found in the most unlikely places

Ralph Waldo Emerson


As we roll into March, I am wishing my visitor, Winter, would take his leave.  He has been around long enough and his white presence over the landscape is getting to be a bit much.  I am longing to see my next visitors; those early spring blooms especially the wildflowers.  As I think about spring, I am happy to profile another favorite wildflower for  Wildflower Wednesday hosted by Gail@Clay and Limestone.  I am highlighting Ohio Spiderwort or Tradescantia ohiensis.   Spiderwort is also known by the names:  Bluejacket, Cow Slobber, Indian Paint, Widow’s Tears, Moses in the Bulrushes, Dayflower and Trinity Flower.

Tradescantia ohiensis is part of the family Commelinaceae (Spiderwort Family is also known as the Dayflower Family).  These flowers are certainly dayflowers as they open in the morning, and by afternoon with strong sun they close. If the plant is flowering in the heat, the flowers usually shrivel to a jelly like substance.  I find the best time to see spiderwort flowering profusely is on a cloudy or rainy day.

IMG_4887Ohio Spiderwort is the most common species of Tradescantia growing in the wild in the United States.  While there are native spiderwort, many that we grow in our gardens are actually a cross between the Ohio and Virginia Spiderwort.  These cultivars have different bloom colors and larger flowers than their native relatives. The odorless flowers can be white, pink, or purple, but most are bright blue, with three petals and six yellow anthers.  I adore the contrast of the yellow and blue as seen above.

The foliage is branched with strong stems that look like blades of grass.  The native varieties have bluish green foliage where I find the cultivars resemble a green grass color with some cultivars now sporting yellow to chartreuse foliage.  The native plant stems can be weak and tower about a foot over the plant, which reaches heights of 2-3 feet.  Ohio Spiderwort is said to be taller and spindlier than the other species.

I have one native Ohio Spiderwort and many cultivars in my garden, but I love them all.  These beautiful plants are thought of as old fashioned flowers, and are not like other garden or wild flowers I grow.



Growing Conditions

Spiderworts are easy to grow in any soil or light conditions including sand and clay. In the wild they can be found in dry, sandy, sunny sites IMG_4833where they will bloom for a short time.  Those found in moist woods and roadsides seem to grow the longest. For more flowers, you want to plant them in sunnier spots.  Of course be careful as the native spiderworts can become aggressive if planted in moist rich soil.

In my garden the spiderworts enjoy wet, humid conditions, which seem perfect for a long bloom period from April to June.  If they are cutback after flowering, they may even rebloom in the fall.

The plants grow in clumps and are slow to spread. Dividing the clumps are the best way to propagate these beauties.  Divide them in early fall or spring.  I have read that Tradescantias will hybridise in just about any combination, which may make for some interesting flowers in spring.  If you want to collect seed, you need the native species, as the hybrids do not set seed.



Where They Are Found

IMG_4831Tradescantia is a genus with about 71 species of native perennial plants found from southern Canada to northern Argentina.

The first spiderwort described in the New World was, T. virginiana or Virginia Spiderwort.  It is native to the eastern United States and southern Ontario. It was introduced to Europe in 1629, where it was cultivated as a garden flower.

T. ohiensis occurs from Massachusetts to Minnesota and Nebraska, and south to Florida and Texas.  Look for this wildflower in moist meadows, fields, prairies, open woods, river banks and roadsides.

It is beautiful when grown in your garden with wild geraniums, native penstemon, monarda, big bluestem grass, liatris, echinacea, and other meadow or prairie flowers.



Benefits to Wildlife


Native spiderworts are browsed by many native pollinators.  I find pollinators constantly on my native Ohio Spiderwort for months on end.  Long-tongued bees, especially bumblebees are very important to this flower. Other visitors include many other bees, Syrphid flies and butterflies.

Pests or diseases are virtually nonexistent with spiderwort, but slugs, deer and rabbit seem to browse the early foliage. Others who may browse the plant are box turtles and livestock as the foliage is non-toxic.  I have to treat the foliage in early spring with a non-toxic spray to keep the critters at bay so the plants can grow.  Critters do not seem so interested in the foliage as the plant grows bigger.



Folklore and Tales

The genus name honors both English naturalists John Tradescant the Elder and John Tradescant the Younger.  In the 1700s Linnaeus named the genus after John Tradescant the Younger.

IMG_4832The common name, spiderwort, is said to be in reference to the many hairs on the sepals and the buds. They are said to resemble a spider’s nest, especially when covered with dew.

Another meaning of the common name refers to the leaves twisted at the joints that resemble spider legs, and yet another meaning is in regards to the folklore that the plant cured the bite of a spider.

The common name, widow’s tears, is thought to come from the fact that the flowers don’t dry up but turn into a blob of jelly.

The Lakota made a blue paint from the flowers that they used to decorate their clothing, which is how it got the name Indian Paint.

Native American tribes like the Cherokee used spiderwort for food and medicine: mashed and used onIMG_4621 insect bites, a paste made from the roots was used to treat cancer and a tea was used to treat stomach-aches or as laxative when they over ate.  Spiderwort was also used to treat “female problems” and for kidney trouble.

Spiderworts are great indicators of radiation and pollution levels because their flowers are highly sensitive to radiation and higher levels of pollution.

The leaves and stems are reported to be edible either fresh or cooked, especially the tender early foliage.  And the flowers are an edible and look pretty in salads.

Because each flower only lasts one day the flower is said to represent transient happiness in the Language of Flowers.


What flower tales do you have?




To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake



Come Join Us:

Seasonal Celebrations is a time for marking the change of seasons and what is happening in your part of the world during this time.  I hope you will join in by creating a post telling us how you celebrate this time of year whether spring or fall or something else.  Share your traditions, holidays, gardens and celebrations in pictures, poetry or words starting March 1st.

And it seems so appropriate to collaborate with Beth and her Lessons Learned meme.  What lessons have you learned this past season of winter here in the North and spring in the South.  Then tell us about your wishes, desires and dreams for this new season.The rules are simple.  Just create a post that talks about lessons learned and/or seasonal celebrations.  If you are joining in for both memes please leave a comment on both our blog posts.  Or if you are choosing to join only one meme, leave a comment on that blog post.  Make sure to include a link with your comment.

Beth and I will do a summary post of our respective memes on the equinox (the 20th of March).  And we will keep those posts linked on a page on our blog.  Your post should be linked in the weekend before the equinox to give us enough time to include your post in our summary.  And if you link in a bit late, never fear we will include it on the special blog page (which I still have to create).  The badges here can be used in your post.   So won’t you join in the celebration!!


Next up on the blog:    Spring is getting closer and closer, and Seasonal Celebrations will be here starting with a post on Friday  March 1st.  Then it is all uphill from there as I put on my garden shoes to kick into high gear.

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’s Fertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

70 Replies to “Wildflower Tale-Spiderwort”

    1. Aren’t they just Christina. I love collecting all the colors and watching for them to emerge every spring.

  1. Wow! the bottom flower is the most lovely among all the varities. Thanks for all the information. I have wild flowers in the garden – but I don’t know their names as I didn’t plant them and they grow as weed.

    Ah! you live in central NY :-). I love upstate NY, especially driving there. Perhaps we should arrange bloggers buzz for gardeners in NJ, NY, Penn areas – where garden bloggers come together for a fun-filled day :-).

    1. KL I do love the lilac color as it is such a wonderful spring color. Perhaps as your wildflowers grow, you might recognize them in a post someone writes.

      A bloggers buzz sounds like fun. There are so many bloggers in the tri-state area and it would be wonderful to get together. Have you heard of the Garden Blogger’s Fling. I have not had a chance to go but they have a website.


      This year and next year it is on the west coast but in 2015 it will be in Toronto.

  2. Hello Donna, i agree, your winter is too long. I guess your plants are already eager to come out of the soil! That Tradescantia flower is really lovely, both colors, and they are bigger than ours. Why is the species called ohiensis instead of ihioensis. The guess the 2nd speaks more of its intention.

    1. Not sure of the name but I think it has to do with the common name Ohio Spiderwort. Subtle changes coming for the seasons.

    1. Tina I think I love blogging about wildflowers because I learn so much myself, especially those crazy names!

    1. Christy it is one of the reasons I have so many as I kept finding new cultivars and wanted to see all the gorgeous color combinations….

  3. They are beautiful flowers! A friend gave me a couple of plants a few years ago, but they didn’t do well and have practically disappeared – too dry last year for them. They never flowered as beautifully as yours! Very interesting folklore, Donna. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I fell in love with spiderwort when I was creating the gardens at our house and think I have every colour it comes in. My foliage tends to flop so the flowers are often hidden, does yours?

    1. Judith it flops with the native plant as it is in more shade and gets very tall…the cultivars do not flop so much for me and the flowers show off but they are in more sun I think. I will watch this year and let you know.

  5. I love spiderworts for my west facing, clay soil border under walnut trees. They are hardy, dependable, and don’t get aggressive in such a spot. As I reintroduce wildflowers back into our formally grazed woods, Virginia Spiderworts are doing well and blend nicely with the bottlebrush grasses and Spicebushes.

    1. Heidi they sound lovely mixed with the grasses and spicebushes. Good to know you found a spot to keep them a bit controlled.

  6. Hi Donna! What an excellent post about spiderwort! I have blue and white varieties and need to restrict my plants . They tend to grow big and crowd their neighbors. But, it’s easy to do!
    I love their long lasting blooms. You showed some gorgeous flowers. I especially like the picture before the last one. Thank you!

    1. Tatyana, I love the powder blue one as well. Very unusual color. Thankfully the spiderwort are staying behaved in my garden and sharing space but I know eventually I may have to divide them.

  7. They are so very pretty….and you have included so much valuable information…I wonder if they will grow here for me.

    We used to sell a Golden spiderwort in the nursery where I worked…it was expensive, and VERY popular.


    1. Jen the native spiderwort is native to Ontario and most cultivars are hardy from zone4-10. I would bet they would do fine for you.

  8. Donna, This is a very informative post. I have two spiderwort in my garden: Tradescantia Sweet Kate which I planted, and another that is a volunteer – not sure how it got there. I enjoy them. Have a great week!
    Hugs, Beth

    1. Interesting Beth to have a volunteer. I wonder if it is a wildflower brought there. If it gets taller than Kate it provably is.

    1. Along with your note about how it got its name “widow’s tears”: from GardenGuides, “the sap is very gooey…it also looks like cow slobber.”

      Some names are more appealing than others, aren’t they…

  9. This is a great article Donna! I love this flower (and I sometimes hate it because it has become too aggressive in my current garden.) It is among the earliest bloomers and it looks great with small woodland phlox and irises. I have admired the deep purple since early childhood, when I proudly painted part of the white column on our front porch using the pretty blue flowers. Couldn’t understand why my mother was not pleased.

    1. I cannot understand why your mother would have been upset either 🙂 How funny it is aggressive for you as this is not aggressive at all in my garden (at least not yet). It sounds lovely planted with irises and phlox. Mine is amongst roses, irises, peony and hardy geraniums. It is in several spots actually since it goes so well with many plants.

    1. Patty I love them for their long bloom as well in my garden. I actually should plan on dividing them soon and sharing their beauty around the garden.

  10. I too have Tradescantia. You did a very thorough post on the plant. I have not had good luck with it though, or maybe you could say too much luck. It is very aggressive even though I planted it in sun and dry conditions. I thought that would contain it, but it spreads like crazy. I forget the cultivar and have to look it up.

    1. Donna that is too bad…interesting that the cultivar was aggressive but it is a cross between the 2 natives and Virginia spiderwort is very aggressive…so perhaps that is why the cultivar is also. It is not fun having an aggressive plant in any garden but I have to suspect it is less so in an urban garden.

  11. Beautiful Donna! I love these flowers. Jean from Jean’s garden mailed me some of her ‘Osprey’ cultivar, which is fitting here along the river where there are many Osprey. They are so beautiful. I would like to add the native Ohio Spiderwort to my garden as well.

    1. Kathy I love Osprey too. If you cannot find the native let me know and perhaps I can divide mine since I am sure it will need it soon.

  12. Cow slobber, lol, that’s great Donna. Have not heard of that common name before. Very much looking forward to spring too, hopefully it’s a gradual warm-up this spring.

    1. That is all I want too Heather…a gradual warm up spring. I thought the Cow Slobber name was too funny Heather.

  13. Tradescantia is such a great color, I think I will be adding some into my garden this summer. Did you know that the filaments will change color if there are radioactivite elements in the soil?
    Great post as always!

  14. I often walk by these in the GC – will need to give them a bit more consideration in future.
    Thanks for a great profile and not such a big thank you for adding another plant to my plant list….lol!

  15. We learned our lesson growing spiderwort, it did take over a large part of our garden. I wish I would have read your post about being careful with this plant. It is very pretty. Thanks for sharing, have a happy day!

    1. Eileen was it T ohiensis or T virginiana or a cultivar that was aggressive? T ohiensis is not as aggressive and in my garden not at all. Just a thought if you had wanted to ever try growing it again.

  16. I think spiderwort is very beautiful although its tendency to close at the drop of a hat is frustrating. The flowers always seem to close just when I have a moment to finally view them. I had T. virginiana but it spread so rapidly and was so hard to remove that it scared me. I pulled it all out. My favorites are ‘Concord Grape’ and a very large flowered white cultivar.

    1. Carolyn T. virginiana seems to be the one that is aggressive according to most literature. T ohiensis is not as aggressive and I have found it not to be which is nice for a change.

  17. I have a dayflower weed – not the same thing as spiderwort, but it looks almost the same, except much smaller. It is everywhere in my garden, and it’s hard to pull because it’s such a pretty blue. But, it’s very aggressive, so I do. I had actually never seen a spiderwort until last year when I went on a garden tour. I was taken with this beautiful plant, and quite surprised that it was spiderwort. Not at all like my little weed! I think I would really like spiderwort in my garden, and I doubt it would be aggressive since we’re so dry here. I hope your visitor realizes he has overextended his welcome, and leaves soon! 🙂

    1. I think he is getting the message Holley…there are many varieties of spiderwort so you may find one that loves your garden…of course the cultivars should do fine and I bet would love your garden…and look at all the colors!

  18. Cow slobber — you just wonder who could have been so focused on the gooey sap that they completely ignored the flowers to give these lovelies a name like that! I hope you are enjoying these (ever so slightly) longer days and beginning to see signs of change on the horizon, Donna.

    1. I had the same thought Stacy…I get lost in the flowers with this plant. The subtle signs of spring are creeping in every so often. I wish I could actually see the soil though…we are still covered by snow and will be until later next week as we are supposed to get a slow warm up then to the 40s.

  19. I like the cobalt blue and gold combination in the first photo and all of their fluffy centres. Interesting that they turn to jelly.

    1. B-A-G I never really noticed how they faded, but you can be sure I will be paying close attention. I was so caught up in their wonderful blooms that I missed the goo.

  20. Oh this wildflower is gorgeous, I love it in purple! The first photo is amazing. Thanks for stopping by my hellebore post and reminding me about your seasonal celebration. I have a trip planned to a special garden that I’d love to link to your celebration post. I’ll surprise you. Have a lovely weekend! 🙂

  21. Always a delight to visit you! I am aching for spring to finally come so I can see something other than white snow in my gardens!
    Thanks for linking in again this week..I am sharing it to my tootsie time facebook page too!
    hugs from Alberta Canada!

    ¸.•´¸.•*¨) ¸.•*¨)
    (¸.•´ (¸.•´ .•´ ¸¸.•¨¯`•.

Comments are closed.