Basic information about Tradescantia. Includes Origin, Growing & Cultivation, Common Pests & Diseases, Interesting Facts & Uses, and Garden Design Tips.
The botanical name, Tradescantia, was given by Linnaeus in honor of a pair of English naturalists and explorers John Tradescant the Elder and John Tradescant the Younger (a father-son duo who brought the first specimen to Europe from the colony of Virginia).
The common name of ‘Wandering Jew’ references the myth of the Wandering Jew, doomed to wander the earth after taunting Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion. So named because this plant can spread very readily, and become invasive in certain areas of the world.
This genus is large and native to the New World, or Western Hemisphere.
Growing and Cultivation
Tradescantia prefers partial shade but can tolerate both full shade and full sun. A wide range of soils is acceptable, but the ideal would be moist, well-drained soils. This plant can also tolerate heavy clay!
When overcrowded, Tradescantia can be divided easily. After flowering, it is beneficial to cut foliage back heavily to encourage regrowth and possible rebloom in fall.
Common Pests and Diseases
Tradescantia is pretty pest and disease-resistant, the only pest known to show up commonly are slugs and snails. You can use a home-made or commercial slug/snail bait or preventative to treat.
This plant is quite rabbit-resistant; they prefer not to eat it.
Interesting Facts and Uses
Tradescantia is very important to genetics research due to how quickly their chromosomes and genes evolve. They’re also used as bioindicators to detect mutagens (substances that can cause mutations) since they are sensitive to mutations.
They are also, unfortunately, classed as environmental pests in some areas since they can spread readily and compete with crops.
Many species in the genus are tropical, and used as house plants here in the US. The ‘Wandering Jew’ in your livingroom pot is probably related to the ‘Wandering Jew’ in your backyard! (Especially if their leaf arrangement seems similar).
American Indians used T. virginiana in traditional medicine to treat stomach ache and cancer, among other ailments, as well as eating it occasionally as a food source.
Garden Design Tips
Tradescantia’s long, cascading foliage can contrast more rounded textures like Hosta, Heuchera, Brunnera, and Epimedium.
The rich purple/red/blue triangular flowers add electric spots of brightness to shady areas!
To purchase Tradescantia varieties, please visit our Shade Companion Plants Page.