Monday, April 8, 2013

Seeing a familiar weed in a new light

Although the short-lived three-petal blue flowers of spiderwort only last a morning, by the next day new blooms have taken their place.

April 8, 2013

My yard is full of spiders but only some are invertebrates.  A surprising number are botanical beauties called Tradescantia ohiensis, commonly known as spiderwort.

Although I never intentionally planted spiderwort, this blue-flowering Florida native has made an appearance in our lawn and garden beds for years.  Spiderworts usually pop up erratically - a few here, a few there, with no particular show of profusion. 

Until this year. 

In 2013, the population exploded.  Suddenly, I began noticing spiderworts everywhere.  While the majority surrounds the compost area, others have infiltrated the collection of weeds my husband and I call “lawn.”  Some have crept their way alongside dirt walkways, next to the clay wall while others crawled toward the lakeshore.  It doesn’t seem to matter what type of soil is present.  Spiderworts are thriving in sand, hard-packed orange clay as well as in rich loam.

Growing in clump, spiderwort flowers range from pink to blue to purple

The explosive growth of this weed/wildflower has caused me to pay closer attention.  While I’ve often admired its colorful blooms – yellow stamens surrounded by three pink-to-blue-to-purple petals – I did little more than acknowledge its presence.  I assumed it spread through some sort of underground root system since I always noticed it growing in clusters instead of isolated specimens.  However, it wasn’t until I did some research that I realized there was much more to this hardy bloomer than a pretty face with leaves that resemble a spider’s legs.

Spiderwort is in the Commelinaceae family of flowering plants that are often nicknamed dayflowers.  Like others in that genus, spiderwort plants and flowers grows in clusters, with each individual bloom lasting only part of a day.  In our yard, the petals open early but by midday, they’ve already begun to wilt.  By dusk, the once pretty blooms will have transformed into a soft jelly-like mush.  The next morning, however, new flowers appear and the cycle of beauty continues. 

In Florida,spiderwort is a perennial reappearing each spring.  While I was correct in assuming this two-foot-tall wildflower spreads by underground rhizomes, I didn’t realize it propagates by seeds as well. 

I also didn’t know it is an edible plant.  I discovered that all parts of 
Tradescantia ohiensis can be eaten – leaves, flowers, stalks and roots.  Although I haven’t tried them yet, people who have compare the steamed stalks to asparagus.  Tender young leaves can also be steamed or used fresh in salad and the blue-colored flowers work well both as a garnish and as a snack when working or walking outdoors.

Tradescantia ohiensis also has medicinal properties.  The plant’s crushed leaves are purported to alleviate the sting of insect bites while a tea made out of boiled roots has use as a laxative. 

It has been an eye-opening experience to learn so much new information about a familiar garden face.  As it turns out, spiders and spiderworts have more in common than just a name.  Neither receives the appreciation they deserve for all the good they have to offer.  Once I stopped thinking of spiderwort as just another annoyingly “creepy” weed, I was able to see it as the valuable botanical beauty it is. 


  1. We have 2 purple flowers that just pop up in our so called "lawn". One is Creeping Charlie which I love but is the bane of most MN yard meisters. The name of the other escapes me, "forget me not's", or some kind of violet. They are the first color of spring but don't survive the summer heat. In either case, they are a welcome visitor.

    1. so much beauty is literally underfoot. an all-grass lawn might be some people's idea of perfection but, like you, i prefer a more natural look in which weeds/wildflowers compete for attention!

  2. This is one of my favorite plants in my s.e. FL gardens. It definitely pops up all over. This was a very interesting post.


    1. Thank you, Lorraine. I have come to really appreciate all the volunteer blooms that dot my yard. Weeds to some. Welcome bits of beauty to others.