A Spiderwort By Any Other Name …

Yes, it has an ugly name, but Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) has much to offer in a cottage-style garden, especially if the gardener likes blue flowers, as I do. This plant is native to the eastern half of the USA as well as southern Ontario.

Ohio Spiderwort
Ohio Spiderwort

Ohio Spiderwort is much better behaved than the more commonly grown Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana). It forms large clumps, but does not spread by runners. It is also a much taller plant, growing to three or even four feet. Some people say it self-sows aggressively, but that hasn’t been my experience.

Spiderwort and Bumblebee

The clusters of three-petaled flowers bloom from May into July. Each flower blooms for just one day and usually closes in the afternoon, though they may stay open all day if it’s cloudy. The flowers are a favorite of bumblebees and other pollinators.

The grass-like leaves are a dark bluish green. T. ohiensis likes full sun best, but tolerates part shade, and is adaptable as to soils. It is pretty much disease free, definitely a lower maintenance plant.

Ohio Spiderwort

I have a large clump of Ohio Spiderwort growing in my parkway garden. I enjoy it, but it is having a floppiness problem. I tried one of those hoops that are used with peonies. Unfortunately the stems were too tall and flopped after the rain, then stayed at about a 30 degree angle.

So I’m trying to think of some new companion plants that will help hold up the Spiderwort. Since this is a raised bed with well drained soil, I’m considering Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’, a medium height cultivar of Russian Sage.

As for the common name, there doesn’t seem to be a generally accepted explanation. Some say that it was once used to treat spider bites, others that the flowers themselves look like spiders, though I don’t see the resemblance. Also it should be remembered that wort is a Middle English word for plant, and has nothing to do with warts.

This post is written as part of Wildflower Wednesday hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone. This month Wildflower Wednesday actually falls on a Monday on account of Thanksgiving. Anyway, check out her blog for more wonderful wildflowers.

Do you grow any Spiderworts? Any good companion plants to recommend?

48 Comments on “A Spiderwort By Any Other Name …”

  1. I used to grow Ohio Spidewort in my garden when we lived in Massachusetts, it used to reseed quite prolifically. Now I have a named variety growing in my garden er in the PNW, just planted this past summer, but I can’t remember offhand what the name is, and I’m not going out in the dark to check the tag. It has pretty white flowers with a touch of purple.

  2. I like the blue flowers too, not so many plants are true blue. Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Blue Spire’ will also flop in gardens with irrigation of where it is moderately wet. It doesn’t flop for me because my soil is extremely free draining and there is little summer rain, maybe a shorter grass might do the job for you.

  3. They are so lovely…and I rather like that there is still a touch of the wild about them. That being said, I’d love it if breeders would stop giving us crazy-colored flowers and would focus on plants that would fight the flop! I think most gardeners would be in heaven if we didn’t have to constantly stake and tie back things!

  4. Hey Jason,
    Never had any desire to look into this little number. Probably reminded me of a blue-flowered wandering jew we had back home. Also must admit that especially since I spent over 15 years in brand management, never could get past such a disparaging name. Call me shallow, Jason???

  5. I’ve always been afraid to plant spiderwort in my garden because of its reputation for self-spreading, although we grow it in both of the volunteer gardens I work in, and it hasn’t been a problem. I do love those blue flowers. I learned something new today, thanks to you, Jason: I didn’t know there was an Ohio spiderwort, and finally I know the origin of “wort”!

  6. One of my favorite pass-alongs was spiderwort (probably T. virginiana) and I brought it along 12 years ago when I moved to this garden. Sadly it has become a rampant runner and reseeder and it is a constant battle to control it. That said, it is beautiful! When it becomes floppy here I cut it back. It will usually rebloom, if not immediately, then in the fall.

  7. Hi Jason, I have grown Tradescantia with Alchemilla mollis, the frothy lime green works with the blue and the shapes complement each other, plus offers a little support. My one gripe is the slimy mess Tradescantia turns too after a hard frost.

  8. Hi Jason, i realized i haven’t been here for a while. We have Tradescantia but flowers are not as big as those in the temperate climes like yours. They are mostly grown as ground covers, but they grow so fast, so not very popular. I consider them invasive so i don’t like it in mine.

  9. I think the Tradescantia x andersoniana varieties that are typically sold by nurseries here are hybrids of T. virginiana and T. ohiensis. Like your Ohio spiderwort, they grow fairly tall. I have never known them to spread by runners, but they do form big clumps quickly and they self-sow like crazy. I have had reasonable luck with peony hoops as supports. The companion plants i most often grow with Tradescantia are Siberian irises.

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