Plants with trailing and creeping habits are some of the best plants to keep. They are fast-growing and make thick carpet of groundcovers for gardens in no time and they also create striking hanging plants for indoors.
Among the all-time best trailers to grow is the wandering jew. Easy to maintain and drapes beautifully, this colored plant will make any space more inviting and interesting.
- What is a Wandering Jew Plant?
- How to Grow and Care for a Tradescantia
- Common Varieties of Wandering Jew
What is a Wandering Jew Plant?
Tradescantia is one of the 37 genera under the plant family Commelinaceae (1). Some of its 75 species are commonly called ‘wandering jew’ (also known as inchplant), a name they adapted due to their long lifespan like the Jewish character from a Christian folklore.
Another name for this group of herbaceous perennial plants is ‘spiderwort’ after the spiderweb-like sap they produce when the stem breaks. They are native to Canada, Mexico, and Argentina and have been naturalized in other parts of the world (2).
The most common tradescantia grown ornamentally is the T. zebrina also previously called Zebrina pendula. It has long fleshy stems where the leaves and roots appear. The lance-like leaves are a mixture of green and purple with silver stripes on the upper side and deep purple under (3). The plant grows close to the ground and can only reach 20 to 30 cm high.
Does Tradescantia Zebrina Flower?
The wandering jew is considered an ornamental plant primarily because of its showy colorful foliage but the plant does produce flowers.
Small three-petaled pinkish purple flowers appear sporadically throughout the year (4). The resulting fruit is a capsule containing tiny brown seeds.
Is it Toxic to Pets?
Spiderworts are normally harmless plants but they contain toxic properties that may cause mild gastric problems and dermatitis to pets. Although they don’t lead to anything serious, it will be safe to keep the plants out of reach of pets and to keep the hands protected when dealing with the sap of the plant.
Because of the plant’s hardiness and adaptability to different environments, the wandering jew establishes well, in fact so well that it can be considered an invasive plant. In countries like Australia, the plant has the capacity to invade natural vegetation. Although growing them is not prohibited, everyone is obliged to keep the plant’s growth under control (5).
Studies showed that Tradescantia has significant effects as an anticancer, antioxidant, and antibacterial medicinal plant. In traditional Chinese medicine, the wandering jew plant is highly valued as treatment for kidney failure.
The extract from the whole plant is cooked with dates, ginger, and water and consumed by patients. The plant is also known to treat high blood pressure, cough, urinary tract infection and tuberculosis (1).
How to Grow and Care for a Tradescantia
Here’s how to care for a wandering jew plant, one of the easy house plants to own.
Light and Water
In the wild, the wandering jew plant thrives without assistance but under the right conditions. It likes filtered sun so indoor fluorescent light is enough. Placing them by the window and turning the plant every two weeks will keep the leaves colorful and the growth even on all sides (3).
The plant spreads easily in damp areas that’s why it naturally grows along riverbanks and roadsides. When potted, the soil should be kept moist but well-drained. Saturated soil often causes the roots and stems to soften and rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Spiderworts like it warm but there should be enough air circulation or else the leaves will sag. During the heat of the summer, taking the plant outside under shade will provide the necessary cool to the plant.
Mist the hanging plant early in the morning and late in the afternoon. If the plant is on a table, place a glass of water beneath the leaves or put the pot on a wet pebble tray. This will humidify the immediate vicinity of the plant aiding in its photosynthesis and transpiration processes.
Pests and Diseases
The most common living enemies of the wandering jew are aphids, mealybugs, scale, white flies, and spider mites. Manual removal at the onset of infestation is effective but they should be closely monitored as serious attack may lead to the plant’s death. If left unnoticed and the infestation has become severe, get rid of the plant by burning to avoid contamination.
Since the plant is mainly soft almost like a succulent, soggy soil and too wet conditions lead to root and stem rot (4). As long as the plant is receiving just enough moisture, this disease will be avoided.
Propagation and Maintenance
Propagating wandering jew plants is very easy. They can grow from seeds but will take years to establish so the more convenient stem cutting is best. The trailing or creeping stems form nodules where the roots will eventually grow as it comes in contact with the soil (2). When the hanging plant has longer trails than intended, it can be trimmed and the resulting stem cuttings can be rooted to form new plants.
There will be times that the potted wandering jew will become leggy, especially if it’s been receiving more shade. To promote a bushier growth pinch back by literally pinching the tip of the plant where the new growth occurs (4). This practice allows the formation of lateral stems.
In two or three years, the plant may become pot bound, with the roots taking up most of the space in the pot. Repot in a larger container with a good mixture of soil, sand, and compost to replenish the nutrients and provide room for the roots to breathe. Additionally, fertilize once every two months by foliar application just to improve plant vigor.
Common Varieties of Wandering Jew
The oldest and most common indoor wandering jew, this species has leaves alternating, often overlapping when young, purple leaves with silvery green thick stripes and solid purple underside. The stem is also a mixture of purple and green.
The leaves of this species are quite thicker, glossy, and covered in miniscule hairs called trichomes. The three-petalled flower is an ombre of white and pinkish purple with yellow anthers.
T. fluminensis ‘Tricolor’
This attractive variety showcases leaves with white, lilac, and green variegation. It appears smaller than the common wandering jew but bushier in form.
This whimsical species looks frosted with its silvery trichomes covering the entire plant. The green leaves are still alternately arranged but more compact which make a potted plant look more bushy than trailing. The light color of the leaves provide a complementing backdrop to the bright purple flowers.
The leaves and stems of this species are in striking deep purple color hence the common name ‘purple heart’. Under shaded, they turn a hint of dull green. The leaves are also longer and have wider space in between.
(1) Dash, G., et. al. Tradescantia zebrina: A Promising Medicinal Plant. 2017. IAJPS, 4 (10). P. 3498-3502.
(2) Arakelyan, H. Tradescantia zebrina- Mother Nature Healing. 2019. Researchgate.
(3) Vermeulen, N. Encyclopedia of House Plants. Taylor and Francis. 1999. P. 320.
(4) North Carolina State Extension. Tradescantia zebrina. NC State University. 2018. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/tradescantia-zebrina/. Accessed on 12 August 2020.
(5) The State of Queensland. IPA-Zebrina. Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. 2020. https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/51284/IPA-Zebrina-PP102.pdf. Accesed on 12 August 2020.
Photo by Wirestock/depositphotos