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Linda Naeve, Reiman Gardens, (515) 294-8946,
Jean McGuire, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-7033,

For the week of June 14, 2004

Look Beyond Spiderwort's Name for Its Beauty

By Linda Naeve
Extension Coordinator
Reiman Gardens

Selecting the right name for a product or a business is critical and can determine its success or failure. Regardless of the quality, if the product or business doesn't have a catchy, clever name, it may go unrecognized. This week's Reiman's Pick is a beautiful native plant that has a strange, unattractive common name - spiderwort.

There are several explanations as to how spiderwort earned its common name. One reference says it was named because the flowers and buds appear to hang like spiders from the top of the stems and "wort" is the Saxon name for plant. Another reference says it was once used as a medication to treat spider bites, hence its name. A Missouri source claims it was named spiderwort because when cut, its stem oozes a viscous secretion that becomes threadlike and silky when it hardens, like a spider's web.

There are four spiderwort species native to Iowa and two that are commonly grown in gardens, Tradescantia ohiensis and T. virginiana. T. ohiensis prefers sandy open areas and full sun, conditions that simulate its native tall grass prairie. It grows three feet tall with light blue flowers. T. virginiana is the most frequently sold spiderwort with several hybrid varieties on the market. It grows two to three-feet tall and prefers moist soil and full sun to partial shade.

Spiderwort foliage consists of foot-long, arching blade-like leaves. The ends of the stems contain many flower buds that open consecutively for six to eight weeks. The flowers open first thing in the morning and close up in the afternoon, each blooming for only one day. However, the masses of buds and abundance of stems provide a continuous supply of color from early June through July. Although blue to purple hues are the most common colors of spiderwort flowers, hybrid cultivars also offer pink, white and red shades. The unique flowers have three petals that form a triangular shape with bright yellow stamens in the center.

Spiderwort is relatively free of insect and disease problems and is not bothered by rabbits. However, by mid-summer the planting may appear gangly and out of control. After flowering, cut the stems back to about eight to 12 inches above the ground to promote new foliage and possible re-flowering in early autumn. Also, spiderwort is a prolific re-seeder, thus removing the spent blooms helps prevent it from spreading.

Although spiderwort is not considered invasive, it does fill an area within a few years. It is a good idea to rejuvenate the planting by digging and dividing the clump every three to four years. This can be done in the spring or early fall.

You can see beautiful drifts of spiderwort throughout Reiman Gardens. Their unusual growth and masses of blue flowers attract a lot of attention and interest.


Editors: Two color photos, suitable for publication, are available at right. Click on each thumbnail photo to go to the fullsized photo. The top picture's fullsize photo is 584K and the bottom picture's fullsize photo is 576K.

Caption: Spiderworts are native plants that are easy to grow in Iowa gardens. They bloom from early June through July with an abundance of flowers on two- to three-foot tall stems. Spiderworts prefer full sun to partial shade. After they bloom, cut the stems back to eight to 12 inches above the ground to encourage a new flush of growth in the fall.

Tradescantia ohiensis

Caption: Tradescantia virginiana

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