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On Gardening: Native spiderworts offer stunning flower and foliage

May 9, 2016

Purple Queen is one of the toughest plants for zone 7-10 and partnered here in a complementary color scheme with Goldilocks lysimachia.

Each morning I pull into my parking spot which is right in front of our cottage garden. This time of the year it is the bluest blue greeting me thanks to our native spiderwort. Spiderworts are known botanically as Tradescantia virginiana and native over a huge range of the country covering some thirty states. Those states where it is not native have the Tradescantia occidentalis which is called prairie spiderwort.

Today was special, if not eye opening. In the past though, I have absolutely treasured the blue blooms I have given the plant a zero for attracting pollinators despite what the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center reported. It is a rare native indeed that doesn’t serve some other purpose when it is blooming. But today there were both bumble bees and honey bees that made my heart sing. It was kind of like one of my favorite plants had just been validated. It also proved the www.wildflower.org site remains the top authoritative site for natives.

Spiderworts come in a range blue shades as well as pink and rose and even some double selections. Throughout our cottage garden we see a variance in colors. It seems the darker the blue the more I love it especially in contrast with the golden yellow stamens. The showy stalks supporting the flowers reach about three feet tall.

We have one area where they are partnered with pink Satsuki or late blooming azaleas and Blue Glory thunbergia. In another area we have them with the showy white blooming Chinese snowball viburnum. It seems the native spiderwort can fit any location when grown in fertile soil with filtered light.

We have another Tradescantia in a different section of the garden. It is Blue Sue Purple Heart known botanically as Tradescantia pallida. Though you might not recognize the name Blue Sue you most likely are familiar with its old botanical name Setcreasea or old common name Wandering Jew which it is still often referred to in the trade.

Instead of typical dark purple foliage Blue Sue is a stunning blue green and though it is not as cold hardy as its cousin the spiderwort it will thrive from zones 7-10. It has the ability to develop into a most showy groundcover reaching 18-inches tall and spreading to 5-feet over a period of years.  It too offers spiderwort-like lavender flowers but it is the foliage that will steal your heart. We have ours partnered with Wedding Dance white amaryllis or Hippeastrum.

Tradescantia pallida is native to Eastern Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Florida and is about as tough a plant as you could grow. The purple leafed forms have been called Purple Jew, Purple Spidewrort, Purple Heart and the official common name now Purple Queen. I once did a Southern Gardening TV segment with the concept that if you wanted a planting bed where you could feel reasonably assured that it would still look good when you returned from vacation then plant Purple Queen (Tradescanthia), New Gold lantana and a large rock. Others have sworn to have driven a truck over it and it still returned. You have to admit that is pretty doggoned tough.

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