A Spiderwort By Any Other Name …

Yes, it has an ugly name, but Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) has much to offer in a cottage-style garden, especially if the gardener likes blue flowers, as I do. This plant is native to the eastern half of the USA as well as southern Ontario.

Ohio Spiderwort
Ohio Spiderwort

Ohio Spiderwort is much better behaved than the more commonly grown Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana). It forms large clumps, but does not spread by runners. It is also a much taller plant, growing to three or even four feet. Some people say it self-sows aggressively, but that hasn’t been my experience.

Spiderwort and Bumblebee

The clusters of three-petaled flowers bloom from May into July. Each flower blooms for just one day and usually closes in the afternoon, though they may stay open all day if it’s cloudy. The flowers are a favorite of bumblebees and other pollinators.

The grass-like leaves are a dark bluish green. T. ohiensis likes full sun best, but tolerates part shade, and is adaptable as to soils. It is pretty much disease free, definitely a lower maintenance plant.

Ohio Spiderwort

I have a large clump of Ohio Spiderwort growing in my parkway garden. I enjoy it, but it is having a floppiness problem. I tried one of those hoops that are used with peonies. Unfortunately the stems were too tall and flopped after the rain, then stayed at about a 30 degree angle.

So I’m trying to think of some new companion plants that will help hold up the Spiderwort. Since this is a raised bed with well drained soil, I’m considering Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’, a medium height cultivar of Russian Sage.

As for the common name, there doesn’t seem to be a generally accepted explanation. Some say that it was once used to treat spider bites, others that the flowers themselves look like spiders, though I don’t see the resemblance. Also it should be remembered that wort is a Middle English word for plant, and has nothing to do with warts.

This post is written as part of Wildflower Wednesday hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone. This month Wildflower Wednesday actually falls on a Monday on account of Thanksgiving. Anyway, check out her blog for more wonderful wildflowers.

Do you grow any Spiderworts? Any good companion plants to recommend?

48 Comments on “A Spiderwort By Any Other Name …

  1. I don’t grow them but Tradescantia virginiana used to grow along the railroad tracks when I was growing up and they were one of the first plants I learned to identify. I also used to dig them up and bring them home.

  2. I dug out a lot of my spiderwort because it was floppy. I moved it like you were thinking. Next year I guess I will see if it helps. I found it not a great plant for a city garden, but have used it in client gardens in more outlying areas.

  3. I have one plant of T. virginiana and a Sweet Kate with the lime colored leaves. While there is some floppiness I am happy to have them in the garden. Kate flowers through to october for me. Lucky me.

  4. I used to grow Ohio Spidewort in my garden when we lived in Massachusetts, it used to reseed quite prolifically. Now I have a named variety growing in my garden er in the PNW, just planted this past summer, but I can’t remember offhand what the name is, and I’m not going out in the dark to check the tag. It has pretty white flowers with a touch of purple.

  5. I love the color of Spiderwort! We have lots of it up at our cottage in Marquette County, and it always seems like a transitional plant to me–when the Spiderwort begins blooming, the mild weather seems to stay around after that.

  6. I like the blue flowers too, not so many plants are true blue. Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ will also flop in gardens with irrigation of where it is moderately wet. It doesn’t flop for me because my soil is extremely free draining and there is little summer rain, maybe a shorter grass might do the job for you.

  7. I don’t grow any up to now but this one is very pretty. I think it would go well with lime-green foliage, Milium effusum or variegated Carex.

  8. I love this variety of Tradescantia, Jason. I have another in my garden — Tradescantia virginiana. It grows and then snails eat it and the plant looks badly. Yours looks healthy!

  9. They are so lovely…and I rather like that there is still a touch of the wild about them. That being said, I’d love it if breeders would stop giving us crazy-colored flowers and would focus on plants that would fight the flop! I think most gardeners would be in heaven if we didn’t have to constantly stake and tie back things!

    • I couldn’t agree more. And the usual method of making something less floppy is just to make it shorter. Why is it so hard to make more upright stems?

  10. I am only familiar with the Virginia spiderwort here, and it tends to be very aggressive, even weedy. I hope your problem with the floppiness can be solved. I think your idea of a companion plant to support it is a good one.

    • Ohio Spiderwort is not nearly as aggressive as the Virginia. I like this plant enough to keep trying different ways to control the floppiness, eventually I should find something that works.

  11. Hey Jason,
    Never had any desire to look into this little number. Probably reminded me of a blue-flowered wandering jew we had back home. Also must admit that especially since I spent over 15 years in brand management, never could get past such a disparaging name. Call me shallow, Jason???

  12. Thank you for telling us about it. I did not know about the Ohio one and it looks very interesting. I grow a few varieties given to me by a gardener who did not know their names. I should try to look them up

  13. I’ve always been afraid to plant spiderwort in my garden because of its reputation for self-spreading, although we grow it in both of the volunteer gardens I work in, and it hasn’t been a problem. I do love those blue flowers. I learned something new today, thanks to you, Jason: I didn’t know there was an Ohio spiderwort, and finally I know the origin of “wort”!

  14. One of my favorite pass-alongs was spiderwort (probably T. virginiana) and I brought it along 12 years ago when I moved to this garden. Sadly it has become a rampant runner and reseeder and it is a constant battle to control it. That said, it is beautiful! When it becomes floppy here I cut it back. It will usually rebloom, if not immediately, then in the fall.

  15. Hi Jason, I have grown Tradescantia with Alchemilla mollis, the frothy lime green works with the blue and the shapes complement each other, plus offers a little support. My one gripe is the slimy mess Tradescantia turns too after a hard frost.

  16. Grouping it with beebalm or tickseed, and then just cutting the wild mass of stuff back midsummer. I really like the cultivar ‘Concord Grape’ as it has none of these issues and a longer period of bloom.

  17. Hi Jason, i realized i haven’t been here for a while. We have Tradescantia but flowers are not as big as those in the temperate climes like yours. They are mostly grown as ground covers, but they grow so fast, so not very popular. I consider them invasive so i don’t like it in mine.

  18. Nice, I like the Ohio Spiderwort but don’t have nay in my garden. I wonder if it would grow here in upstate South Carolina, zone 6-7.

    I do grow Sweet Kate, here is a link to my post.
    Sweet Kate

    Enjoyed browsing your site!
    Michael

  19. I think the Tradescantia x andersoniana varieties that are typically sold by nurseries here are hybrids of T. virginiana and T. ohiensis. Like your Ohio spiderwort, they grow fairly tall. I have never known them to spread by runners, but they do form big clumps quickly and they self-sow like crazy. I have had reasonable luck with peony hoops as supports. The companion plants i most often grow with Tradescantia are Siberian irises.

    • That makes sense, as the virginiana tends towards pink and magenta, and the ohiensis towards blue. So the andersoniana hybrids can have a wide range of colors.

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