Some Happy Blues

This has been a good year for Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis) in my garden. I can’t remember it blooming so profusely before.

Ohio spiderwort in the front island bed.
Ohio spiderwort in the front island bed.

Ohio spiderwort is not nearly as common in gardens as Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana). There are lots of cultivars of Virginia spiderwort, but none that I know of for Ohio spiderwort. I’m guessing there are two reasons: Virginia spiderwort is more compact and can be bred for a more diverse range of colors.

But Ohio spiderwort has many virtues. First is the deep blue color, set off by striking gold anthers. If a flower is a good blue, why would you go messing around trying to come up with other colors?

Ohio spiderwort close up
Ohio spiderwort close up

It’s got a fairly long bloom period in late spring and early summer, and it’s a good plant for bees and butterflies. What’s more, it makes clumps and doesn’t run like Virginia spiderwort. It’s fairly adaptable, taking sun or part shade and preferring moist but tolerating dry soils.

Ohio spiderwort isn’t perfect, of course. Some people think the tall, grassy stems (from 2-4′) can be rather awkward. Actually, I am really pleased this year that most of my spiderwort is standing up without staking. Instead it is leaning a bit on surrounding plants, especially the swamp milkweed (Asclepisa incarnata) and the Monarda didyma ‘Claire Grace’. This is the kind of thing that is supposed to happen in gardens but almost never does in mine.

Ohio spiderwort in the parkway planting. Can you see the bumblebee coming in for a landing near the center of the photo?
Ohio spiderwort in the parkway planting. Can you see the bumblebee coming in for a landing near the center of the photo?

Plus, the flowers are only open from morning to early afternoon. It dies back in summer, but if you cut it to the ground you will get new growth and possibly more blooms in fall. I’m not going to do this with most of my spiderwort, though, as it is surrounded by plants that will get quite tall and bloom by mid-summer, obscuring the Tradescantia.

Then there’s that name: spiderwort, which sounds like it has something to do with warts on spiders. But, as I have mentioned before, wort is just a Middle English word for plant. Apparently another common name is widow’s tears, but I don’t think that really helps from a branding point of view.

Ohio spiderwort is a good fit for an informal sort of garden, and one where space isn’t at too much of a premium.

Clematis 'Ice Blue'
Clematis ‘Ice Blue’

Another blue flower making me happy right now is Clematis ‘Ice Blue’, which is growing on the back arbor where I used to have my ‘Westerland’ rose. These blooms are an unexpected bonus, as I only planted ‘Ice Blue’ last fall. I thought I wouldn’t see any flowers until next year. ‘Ice Blue’ only grew about 3′ this year, and has had exactly three flower buds.

Do you grow any spiderworts in your garden?

53 Comments on “Some Happy Blues

  1. I agree that there is no need to ‘improve’ the Ohio spiderwort. The blue and gold look great together. I love your picture of them all clustered together. Very nice. have some kind of spiderwort growing in my garden. It was a gift from the wild. I will have to take a close look one of these days to see if I can properly identify it.

    • I was quite surprised to see that there are many spiderworts native to Texas. Take a look at this: npot.org/searchphp?typeIN=&colorIN=&find=tradescantia&search_by=name

      • Awesome! Thank you for the resource. I usually check out the database at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center or the one at the the USDA but I am always looking for new tools. Not sure what drives that need to call things by their names — it is a bit of an obsession but it is what it is. ty =)

  2. I do grow spiderwort but I am liking the blooms of yours better!! They have such a delicate look to them! And your clematis is ridiculously beautiful! Mine got smashed by a falling limb from our ash tree…a story for another time! Happy week to you!

    • Same to you, Nicole. To get Ohio spiderwort you probably have to order from an online native nursery like Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin.

    • Enjoy. Most nurseries carry only the Virginia spiderwort, Ohio spiderwort is more likely to be available from nurseries specializing in natives.

  3. I did have some Spiderworts, but they didn’t do well in our heat, flowering for about 3 hours after sunrise and then flopping during the day! I love the colour of yours though… blue is such a special colour hard to find in summer!

  4. I grew spiderworts in my Chapel Hill garden and found them to be somewhat invasive…seeding around where I didn’t want them (e.g., in the middle of a path. Several friends have reported similar experiences. They ARE beautiful. but I left them out of my current garden. The blue in my garden now is from Vitex and hydrangeas.

    • I don’t think the Ohio spiderwort is quite so invasive, at least not in this area. I always thought the Virginia spiderwort was the worst offender.

  5. I used to grow Spiderworts, but nowhere near as lovely as yours, I found the slimy stems after the frosts a bit grim and on my dry sandy soil they did not perform well. Really super photos and I can see the bumblebee coming in to land too!

    • Sounds like they are not the right plant for your garden. But I know from your blog that you grow many plants, like Phacelia, that wouldn’t survive here.

  6. I grew spiderwort in my garden (two gardens ago!) and I loved the deep blue color which came at a time when there was not much blue in the garden. The clematis is lovely!

    • I sometimes think about gardens at houses we moved from. Usually it’s along the lines of: if only I knew then what I know now!

  7. You’ve got the blues! My spiderwort always flopped and splayed out all over everything. I don’t have it anymore but do admire it in other gardens.

    • I’ve had issues with the flopping also. I think it’s a question of having the right spot and the right companion plants.

  8. So pretty. Not something I’ve grown – yet. Anything that’s easy and that bees like is good enough for me. On another note, I hadn’t realized that “wort” means plant – that explains St. John’s Wort too, I guess. Thanks for the English lesson.

  9. What a lovely plant, I remember having it years ago, it appeared one spring and lasted for years….I must look into getting it back. That’s a lovely clematis too!xxx

  10. I have several cultivars of spiderworts. Here in North Carolina they reseed like weeds— but its a good thing! By midsummer I cut them to the ground and they rebloom later in the Fall.

  11. I don’t grow spiderwort but if I did I like the blue of the Ohio. I agree with you that there is no need to ‘improve’ the Ohio spiderwort. The blue and gold look perfect together.

  12. I’ve read that the name spiderwort comes from the way the angular leaves look like a squatting spider. Personally, I don’t see that when I look at it.
    I don’t grow them now but spiderworts were one of the first plants that I grew when I was a boy.

  13. I love it, but I’m trying to get rid of spiderwort as it has gotten everywhere, but after reading your post I think I’ll try harder to identify exactly which ones I’m growing. The clematis is a nice color.

  14. I used to think of Spiderwort as an unruly, sprawling thing, but with wonderful colors. Now that I am growing the native version, Tradescantia ohienses, I love it! Yes, it does seed about a bit but I find it quite manageable. It does not flop, continues to flower over a long period, exquisite color, very easy to grow. What’s not to like!

  15. The Ice Blue clematis is one of my favorites, indescribable color and it’s so…bloomy. Your mention of tradescantia made me realize that mine is missing. How do these things happen? I must keep an eye out for a replacement. I agree that plant names can be unfortunate and I find that sometimes it’s better just to make up new ones although this can cause a tiny bit of confusion.

    • I often think things are missing only to find they are only tardy, though I guess that it’s a bit late for that with the Tradescantia. I would like to be able to make up plant names and then require other people to use them, a sort of absolute power in a very narrow area. On the Ice Blue, how do you prune them – I’m a little confused on that.

  16. The Spiderworts were truly lovely and vibrant at the UW-Arboretum this spring. Some of them are still blooming. That shade of blue is so vibrant and lovely! I don’t have any growing at my house, but it grows wild up at our cottage. The first time we went there in the spring, we were amazed at how many Spiderwort plants were growing all over the place!

  17. What? You mean you haven’t completely sorted the Type A Type B Type C sometimes called Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 clematis categories? Well Blue Ice (which I sometimes call it instead of Ice Blue just for fun and because I can’t remember) is one of those Types where I think if you prune it you get no blooms next year –because that Type is vindictive and has a good memory.

  18. I love the blues of Tradescantia ohiensis. I think I remember reading that the “Andersonia group” of Tradescantia virginiana have some T. ohiensis bred into them — but that the documentation wasn’t adequate for them to be officially listed as hybrids. I can believe that cultivars like ‘Zwannenburg Blue’ get their blue color from a T. ohiensis ancestor.

  19. Hi Jason, blue and gold is a very good colour combination and as you know, I love clematis and “Ice Blue” is well worth stopping to take a good look at and perhaps putting on my shopping list!

    • Today walking in Chicago I saw a white clematis blooming beautifully in a fairly shady spot. The shape of the flowers was much like ‘Ice Blue’.

  20. Judy is doing well by the new camera!
    Is Ohio spiderwort a spreader? I grow sweet kate and she’d always a restrained clump, but a friend of mine has a few spiderworts rampaging through his borders via runners. they look nice, but don’t play well with others.

  21. I love spiderwort..both VA and OH. My OH are in more shade and have not bloomed yet, but boy they bloom for months. The VA are many colored and I cannot believe how long they have been blooming now-about a month.

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