Virginia Spiderwort

Tradescantia virginians. Fear not, arachnophobes, Virginia Spiderwort does not attract spiders. Well, no more than any other plant might. However, there’s no consensus on just why it’s a spiderwort. Some say it’s because the long slender leaves, especially when flopped over, look like a squatting spider. Others maintain it’s the juice from the leaves – break one and the fluid quickly forms webby threads.  Still others believe it’s from the weblike filaments surrounding the anthers on the flowers. Less obscure is its scientific name, Tradescantia virginiana, which recalls one of the great English botanists and students of newly discovered North American plants. John Tradescant (1608-1662) served as gardener to King Charles I of England; he received and propagated many of the samples of plants from the Colonies. In fact, his son, bearing the same name, traveled to America and collected specimens — and succeeded his father as royal gardener. Over the centuries, hybrids of Virginia Spiderwort and other Tradescantia species have been created as garden flowers and even houseplants. Our wild native needs no hybridization to radiate beauty — its three-petaled blossoms may be blue, violet, rose, purple, or rarely even white.  This display is a backdrop for six bright yellow stamens, producing a colorful array that attracts a wide variety of bees, many of which provide pollination services. For the American Indians and early settlers, the plant’s greens were fried or boiled as food.  The roots were mashed to create a poultice to treat skin cancers and even bites by insects — perhaps even by spiders. 

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