Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Amazing Spiderwort

One day a long time ago when I was still living in Atlanta, I was driving in the country on my way up to the mountains when I passed an old wooden house surrounded by dewy blue spiderworts (Tradescantia virginiana). The house was weathered and silvery—unpainted—and its lawn was entirely blue. The “lawn” was composed of hundreds and hundreds of spiderworts. It looked like a little blue lake, with the house floating in the middle like a boat. I almost ran off the road, I thought it was so pretty.

And so I was glad when I moved to Quincy and discovered spiderworts growing wild in my new yard. There weren’t as many as in the lawn of the old house in North Georgia, but there were quite a few. The grass was spotted with cool, refreshing blue. I knew Rob would be mowing, so I rescued the spiderworts and moved them into my planting beds.

Today, spiderworts grow here and there all around the house, in the company of ferns and other wildflowers—most notably, wild petunias in a matching lavender-blue shade. On spring and early-summer mornings, both species look so fresh, so cool and tranquil, so delicious. They put me in mind of blue-raspberry popsicles, Berry Blue Kool-Aid, and other thirst-quenching treats.

Spiderwort, also known as Virginia spiderwort, lady's tears, Job’s tears, snake-grass, spiderlily, dayflower, flower-of-a-day, trinity lily, and trinity flower, is an herbaceous perennial native from Florida north to New England and west to Minnesota and East Texas. It grows up to 2 feet tall and can be found in meadows and open woods and along stream banks and roadsides.

The leaves are long (often measuring a foot or more) and strap-like, about an inch wide, tapering toward the tip. In shade, they’re medium green, but in more sun they tend to turn chartreuse. They’re kind of grass-like in appearance, but more tender and fleshy. The way they tend to bend over in the middle, they remind me a little of spider legs—daddy longleg legs, in particular. Rabbits, turtles, and deer are known to nibble them, and some people say humans can eat them too (they're supposedly good in salads).

Here in Quincy, my spiderworts bloom steadily from the beginning of April until around the end of June. The flowers in my yard are blue or violet, which are the most common colors for spiderworts, but I’ve read about plants that have pink flowers or even white ones, though white is supposedly pretty rare. Each flower measures about an inch across and has three rounded petals. In the center of the flower are six stamens topped with bright yellow anthers (pollen holders).

The blooms of a spiderwort are fleeting, ephemeral. They stay open for only a day—or a morning, if it’s sunny. By afternoon, they’ve wilted, faded away, but new blooms appear daily (or almost daily) throughout the spring. If you want to support bees, this is a good plant to include in your pollinator garden. I’ve seen all kinds of bees visiting the flowers—honeybees, carpenter bees, halictine bees, bumblebees. . . . I read that bumblebees are the primary pollinators.

Spiderwort is adaptable and will grow in a variety of soil types, including moist, dry, sandy, clay, rich, poor, acid, and alkaline. It does best in part shade but can also endure full sun. In mid-summer the foliage can get a little messy and bedraggled-looking, so you might want to cut it back if you think it’s an eyesore. New leaves will develop as temperatures cool down, and plants will sometimes flower again in fall.

After 10 years of tending it, I’m happy to report that my population of spiderworts is slowly but steadily growing. Established plants will self-sow, but spiderwort also spreads through underground stems (stolons) and, given time, can form large colonies—like the one I saw that day and never forgot. Finding that magical, all-blue yard in the foothills of the mountains is still one of my favorite memories.

This is one of the beds where my spiderworts grow. Unfortunately, you can't really see them in the shot. So what is the point of this picture? I don't know.


  1. Hi Leslie, I can imagine that a yard or spiderworts was quite a sight. I just located one that had come up in the center of a walkway. I'm hoping that they will spread themselves throughout their new area. They are a very pretty blue.

  2. Spiderworts are one of my very favorite plants in my gardens. They 'spread' and they are great bloomers and bees love them.

    Happy Gardening ~ FlowerLady

  3. They are such a pretty color blue. I hope to be able to find some to buy at the plant nursery this year. I hope it isn't too late to plant them if I do find some to buy. The first few weeks of May have gone past so quickly.

  4. I'm so glad you all are fans of the humble spiderwort! It seems so often people just consider it a weed. Thanks so much for visiting!