Using Common Spiderwort as an Ornamental Garden Plant
An Alternative to Expensive Ornamentals?
Do you like using ornamental grasses in your landscaping? What about bulb plants such as irises? If so, then you might enjoy adding the common spiderwort to your flower beds or borders. This plant is a wild flower found in abundance across many parts of the U.S.
Although it is a "grassier" plant, the spiderwort also blooms. It resembles bulb plants, in that the flower stalks grow up taller than the leaves. However, it blooms much longer. When fully mature, the leaves create an attractive fountain-shape, resembling ornamental grasses.
The whole plant can be moved easily, and will grow well (even in crowded conditions), making it excellent for that dense look that's popular with country garden lovers. The blooms come in a variety of shades, from delicate lavender to plush pink.
Basic Facts About Spiderwort
- Partial sun to full sun for best blooms
- Grows in zones 4-11
- Heights range from 6-36 inches
- Bloom colors: white, pink, blue, lavender
A Little Information on Spiderwort
Common spiderwort belongs to the genus Tradescantia. It is one of an estimated 71 species. Many other familiar plants are related to the common spider wort, including Wandering Jew.
Depending on the species and environmental factors, plants may grow anywhere from 6-36 inches tall. The flowers, which open in the morning and last only one day, can be white, pink, blue or varying shades of purple.
Spiderwort is a monocot, meaning that the flower parts are composed in groups of three. In the case of spiderwort, each flower has three petals. Monocots, including spiderwort, tend to have thick, fibrous roots as well.
The stems and leaves, when broken, reveal a sticky, white sap. The stretchy quality of this sap earned the plant it's nickname of "slobber weed". The sap can cause skin irritation in some people and animals.
Easy to Grow
These are non-fuss plants. They seem to enjoy all soil conditions and aren't picky about sun or shade.
Spiderwort as a Container Plant
Although they can be kept in a container, I noticed that the plants that were potted displayed different qualities than those in the ground.
- Less foliage
- Darker blooms
- More abundant blooms
- Stopped blooming at the same time as the wild plants
- Less tolerant to heat
- Preferred cramped pots to roomy ones.
Plants are often as picky and individual as humans, so it is hard to say (without more experimentation) whether or not these are "rules" or just what happened to my plants.
Although it was nice to see the plants dripping with clusters of blooms, I didn't like the stalky, leaf-less plants in pots as much as I liked the bushy clumps in the flower bed.
Native Plants (weeds) as Ornamentals
Would you plant spiderwort or another "weed" as an ornamental?
Spiderwort in Folk Medicine
The flowers, stems and leaves of the spiderwort are edible. The young leaves, when tender can be eaten raw or boiled down with other greens.
Parts of the plant have been used in folk medicine for years. The most common use among Native Americans (especially the Seminole Tribe) is a male virility aid. It was also given to livestock as an aphrodisiac.
Other herbal uses for spiderwort included:
- Poultice for spider bites
- Treatment for ulcers and cancers
- Relief from insect bites
- Relief from menstrual discomfort
- Treatment for kidney problems
- Remedy for stomachache
Magically, spiderwort is thought to attract wealth and abundance. Also, because of it's name, it can be used to repel spiders and protect from bites.
The flowers are associated with delicate beauty. When added to the bathwater they can help retain attractiveness.
Scientifically, the spiderwort has proven to be very sensitive to radiation and other toxins in the environment. The flowers will turn from their usual shade to a bright pink when exposed to harmful pollutants!
Where to Find Spiderwort
Spiderwort can be found growing naturally:
- On roadsides
- Along ditches
- Along streambeds
- At the edge of woods
- Certain prairie areas
If you find a patch of spiderwort somewhere and wish to transplant it, the whole process is easy. All you need is a shovel, a bucket, and a patch of garden in which to plant.
- Dig deep and wide around the plant. The roots are not particularly long, but they spread outwards quite a bit. The fewer roots you damage, the faster your plant will perk up.
- If it will be awhile before you can transplant, place the whole plant in a bucket and cover roots with water or damp soil.
- Dig a hole bigger than needed, and backfill with loose dirt. This helps the plants recover from transplant shock quickly.
- Small plants didn't grow any after transplanting. To achieve the fuller look, transplant fully grown plants that are blooming or have buds. They will continue to bloom and will fill out the bed. (may depend on zone and soil conditions)
- Water after transplanting, then regularly along with other plants.
- They can be transplanted late in the year, (September or October here, where the first frost is usually very late.)
- Plant several plants together on a clump to create a fuller display. They don't seem to mind being crowded.
Pros and Cons of Spiderwort in the Garden
Although it is an attractive plant, spiderwort may not be the ideal addition for some gardeners. As with all plants, it comes with some pros and cons that need to be weighed before making the move.
Since I am biased, I will start with the good traits:
Pros of Spider Wort:
- Pretty flowers
- Bushy plant that helps fill bare areas
- Tall enough to be seen in layered arrangements
- Easy to care for
- Likes any soil
- Transplants easily
But there are some downsides:
Cons of Spider Wort:
- Can be invasive
- Looks like grass when it isn't blooming
- Doesn't look attractive when the blooms start wilting
- May be too tall for some gardens
- Slugs love it
- Fragile stems when at it's tallest. Hard rains can lay it over for awhile.
Prolonging Bloom Time
Although the wild spider wort has stopped blooming, mine still flower out every morning. I keep them going by clipping the bud heads after they have turned black and have no more green "pods" on them.
The plant will produce new green leave growth around the wound and buds in other places. This may be individual to the common spiderwort plant.
What I Have Learned About Spiderwort
I have learned some interesting things about spiderwort this year as I observed plants that were transplanted last year and this year.
- To begin with (and this could be the zone), they transplant very easily. I have moved them in the early spring when they were new plants, and in the late spring when they were already blooming. Except for a minimal amount of wilt, they recovered in a day or two, and even continued to bloom.
- Although the blooms do begin to die by afternoon, that doesn't mean your plant is bare. New blooms open up each day. I have enjoyed spiderwort flowers for 4 months now continuously.
- They don't seem to be in a big hurry to spread. The plants from last year and this year, as well as those still on the back edge of the property have not multiplied in number. Yet. This may because I actually love this plant and actually want it to fill an entire flower bed!
- They seem to do equally well in shade, sun, partial shade, and pots. They have all bloomed the same. The only difference I noticed was that the one plant that gets more sun is shorter than the rest. It still blooms every day though.
- They attract bees and butterflies, but bad bugs don't like them. So far, they are the only plant that hasn't been viciously nibbled by grasshoppers and such.
- They sometimes bloom well into October.
Even though they are a common weed, and not nearly as showy as some other wildflowers, I have come to love my spiderwort plants very much. The medicinal, magical and culinary benefits are enough to earn them a place in my garden. The fact that they are beautiful to look at just makes them all the more welcome.
Time lapse video of spiderwort blooms closing in late morning.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.