The Wandering Jew plant, scientifically known as Tradescantia spp., is a genus of herbaceous and perennial plants, belonging to the Commelinaceae family. It is not a single plant but rather the common name for a variety of Tradescantia species, including Tradescantia fluminensis, Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’, and Tradescantia zebrina, among others.
These plants have heart-shaped leaves that may be solid or have different colors on them, depending on the type. The plant also produces small flowers with three petals that can be violet, white, or pink.
Wandering Jew plants have a fast growth rate, especially during the growing seasons when temperatures are warm. They have succulent stems that root wherever they touch the soil, allowing them to spread easily and rapidly and create a thick mat of colorful foliage. Under optimal conditions of good light levels and proper watering, they can grow as much as an inch per week, even up to 14 inches in height
They are known for their trailing or vining growth habit with their stems cascading down and spreading out, making them perfect as indoor hanging plants or ground cover in outdoor gardens
Types of Tradescantia
The exact number of Tradescantia varieties can vary as new research is conducted and new species are discovered. However, according to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, there are currently 85 recognized species of Tradescantia, though this number may change as new species are identified or reclassified. Some of the most common Tradescantia species distributed commercially are:
Tradescantia zebrina, formerly called Zebrina pendula and Cyanotis vittata, is probably the single most common and best-known indoor Tradescantia. It features striped green, white, and gray leaves with purple undersides. The leaves are ovate in shape and clasp the stem at the base.
While the plant occasionally produces tiny three-petaled lavender-purple flowers, they are infrequent when grown indoors. Tradescantia zebrina is a herbaceous perennial that is often grown as a houseplant due to its attractive foliage. Among this type we also have;
Tradescantia pallida, commonly known as Purple Heart or Purple Queen, is native to northeast Mexico and is grown as an ornamental for its vibrant color. The plant has lance-shaped leaves that are dark purple in color and can grow up to 7 inches long. These leaves are covered with pale hairs and form a sheath around the stem.
The purple leaves of Tradescantia pallida provide a nice contrast to other foliage colors and complement pink, light purple, or burgundy blossoms on other plants. It can also be grown as a houseplant or used in mass plantings for in-ground landscapes.
Tradescantia Nanouk, also known as Fantasy Venice, is a highly sought-after plant that has gained popularity on social media platforms like Instagram. It is a unique cultivar of the Tradescantia albiflora species, developed in the Netherlands in 2012.
This patented plant features stunning foliage with a mix of vibrant colors, including bright green, pink, purple, and white. The leaves are fuzzy and grow densely along sturdy vining stems.
Tradescantia Nanouk is known for its fast growth and can reach a height and width of under 3 ½ inches. It thrives in bright, indirect sunlight or full sun and prefers well-draining soil. This plant is relatively easy to care for, making it a great choice for beginners.
The Tradescantia fluminensis variety features soft, hairless stems that root at any node that comes into contact with the ground, allowing it to spread and form a dense groundcover.
It has oval-shaped, dark green leaves with pointed tips that are shiny, smooth, and slightly fleshy measuring approximately 1.25–2.5 inches (32–64 mm) long. Fluminensis also produces small, three-petaled white flowers that are borne in clusters and are subtended by leaf-like bracts
Commonly known as Cobweb Spiderwort or White Velvet Plant, Tradescantia sillamontana, forms an attractive mat of white cobweb-covered leaves, giving it a distinctive and eye-catching appearance. The leaves are fleshy, ovate, and covered with grayish-white short hairs, which protect the plant from direct sunlight and excessive evaporation.
The shoots and stems can reach a height of 10 to 15 inches initially growing erect before trailing and rooting at the soil surface. During the summer, this plant produces bright purplish-pink to purple flowers at the apical growth points or in the axils of the bracts, adding a burst of color to its unique foliage.
Tradescantia Pink Panther
Also known as Callisia repens “Pink Panther“, this variety features petite foliage that is green with pink-striped variegation. These leaves grow upon reddish stems, adding to the plant’s visual appeal.
During the summer, Pink Panther can even bloom tiny white flowers, adding a touch of elegance to its overall appearance. This plant is known to be relatively low-maintenance, making it suitable for both beginner and experienced plant enthusiasts.
Tradescantia blossfeldiana ‘Bubble Gum’ features foliage with a unique and eye-catching coloration. The leaves have uneven stripes of dark green, olive green, and lilac pink and the underside is purplish with a darker stripe, adding to the plant’s visual appeal.
Compared to other Tradescantia varieties, Tradescantia Bubblegum is relatively compact. While the total height of the plant typically does not exceed about 6 inches, the stems can grow very long, reaching up to 6 feet. This makes it a popular choice for hanging plant displays, creating a dramatic effect and adding a pop of color to any indoor space.
Tradescantia albiflora features tiny, succulent oval leaves that are approximately 0.5 to 1 inch in length. The color can vary depending on the light conditions, with most leaves being either green or purple
It is a low-growing and evergreen vine or creeper that can reach up to 2 feet in length and is often grown as a hanging plant due to its trailing growth habit. Tradescantia albiflora is commonly used in horticulture as a decorative plant.
Other varieties include, Tradescantia occidentalis, Tradescantia blushing bride, Tradescantia ohiensis, Tradescantia virginiana, Tradescantia bracteata, etc. In addition, there are multiple hybrids, so the list is a bit long.
Caring for a Wandering Jew Plant
Creeping in habit and native to tropical and temperate climates, tradescantias are widely used as ornamental plants for their beauty and easy cultivation.
Wandering Jew plants prefer bright, indirect sunlight to retain their bright-colored foliage. They can tolerate some direct sun, but too much can scorch their leaves. Also, if they don’t get enough light their leaf colors will fade and look very dull
It is best to place them in an east or west-facing window, or a diffused south window. This will allow your house plant to get plenty of natural light in the morning and evening, and bright indirect light for the rest of the day. If your space doesn’t provide enough light, you can incorporate a grow light
These plants prefer to be kept consistently moist. However, don’t let it ever get soaking wet, this could cause root damage. They can tolerate being overwatered every so often as long as they are placed in a pot that has good drainage holes.
Water them weekly in the summer and less frequently in the fall and winter. To check if your plant is ready for watering, feel the soil a few inches down in the pot. If it’s dry, it’s time to water your plant.
You can also try a bottom-watering method for your Wandering Jew or Spiderwort plants. Simply fill the plant tray with water and allow the plant to soak it up through the drainage holes of the pot. This way, the plants will absorb water directly into the soil, ensuring they receive an ample water supply.
Temperature and Humidity
Wandering Jew plants thrive best in a temperature range of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Frost can kill the plant, but plants in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11 may survive light frosts. When the outside temperature consistently drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it is advisable to bring the plants indoors.
These plants prefer a humidity level of around 70%. You can achieve the right humidity by using a plant humidifier or misting the plants daily with filtered or distilled water
It is best to use well-aerated soil that is well-draining. This will allow your wandering jew plant to soak up enough water without soaking up too much to drown the plant’s roots. If your soil seems too heavy and clay-like, try adding some peat moss and perlite. We recommend using our Ocean Forest potting soil at Garden Goods Direct.
For optimal growth, give your Wandering Jew plants a water-soluble fertilizer at least twice a month during the active growing season. Dilute the fertilizer to 50% strength to prevent leaf burn.
Apply the diluted fertilizer directly to the soil around the base of the plant. Avoid getting the fertilizer on the foliage, as it can cause damage. Water the plant thoroughly after fertilizing to ensure the nutrients are absorbed by the roots.
During the winter months when growth slows down, reduce the frequency to once a month or stop fertilizing altogether. This will allow the plant to enter a period of dormancy and conserve energy Additionally, an annual application of slow-release powdered fertilizer can be beneficial.
Pruning is necessary to maintain a healthy appearance and prevent legginess. Simply cut back the stems and pinch off the tips to encourage bushier growth. You can also prune off any long tendrils if you prefer to keep your plant compact and thick and the plant will send out new shoots below the pinched area.
Propagating Wandering Jew Plants
Propagation methods for different varieties of Tradescantia can vary depending on the specific variety. Here are some common propagation methods for different varieties of Tradescantia:
- Cuttings: Propagating Tradescantia through cuttings is a popular and effective method. Take a stem cutting that includes several nodes, remove the lower leaves, and place the cutting in a container of clean water. Change the water every few days and keep the container in bright, indirect light. This method is suitable for most varieties of Tradescantia.
- Seeds: Some varieties of Tradescantia can be propagated from seeds. Collect mature seeds from the plant and sow them in a well-draining potting mix. Keep the soil moist and provide bright, indirect light. Germination may take a few weeks to a few months, depending on the variety.
- Division: Dividing mature Tradescantia plants is another propagation method. Carefully separate the plant into smaller sections, ensuring that each section has roots attached. Plant the divisions in separate containers with well-draining soil and provide appropriate care. This method is suitable for varieties that produce clumps or have multiple stems.
For more detailed instructions and tips on propagating Wandering Jew/Spiderwort plants, you can refer to this post:
Are Wandering Jew Plants Toxic?
Tradescantia plants, including varieties such as Tradescantia zebrina, fluminensis, and pallida, are considered mildly toxic to pets, including dogs and cats. The plant contains sap within its stems that can cause skin irritation or a rash on both animals and humans.
While consuming the leaves of the plant may not typically result in a toxic reaction, they cancause digestive issues if ingested by pets, it is still recommended to keep pets away from the plant to avoid any potential risks.
Symptoms of Tradescantia poisoning in pets may include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and dermatitis-like skin irritation. If you suspect that your pet has ingested Tradescantia or is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek prompt veterinary care.
To protect your pets from the toxic effects of Tradescantia plants, it is advisable to keep the plants out of their reach. Hanging planters, using carts or shelves, or placing the plants in well-lit corners of rooms that pets do not frequent are effective ways to prevent ingestion.
Regularly checking for bugs on the plants and providing adequate lighting and watering conditions can help ensure the health and well-being of your Tradescantia plants.