Wildflower Wednesday: Spiderwort

Summer is such a fun time to walk meadows and woods, listening to birds, watching butterflies and dragonflies, and spying out wildflowers. I have scads of photos of Michigan wildflowers, many of which I’ve identified, some of which are still a bit of a mystery. I thought perhaps that some of you nature lovers out there might enjoy a regular feature on wildflowers during the warm months. Thus I bring you the inaugural post in the Wildflower Wednesday series. Some of them will be common, others may be rare, all will include a bit of interesting information, like basic facts, uses, and lore.

So without further ado, I bring you the Spiderwort.


Common Name: Spiderwort

Scientific Name: Tradescantia

Habitat & Range: meadows & fields in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula

Bloom Time: spring & summer, one to three blooms opening at a time in each cluster of up to 10 flowers

About: There are about 70 species of Tradescantia, many of which have interesting common names (Scurvy Weed, Moses in the Cradle, Wandering Jew, etc.). The name Spiderwort may come from the sort of spidery look that a clump of these plants have, with their long skinny leaves resembling a spider’s legs, or perhaps the stringy sap that looks a bit like a spiderweb if the leaf is torn apart.

Many plants have the suffix “wort” attached to them. This is a Middle English word that was often used in naming plants. Generally the first part of the name would indicate the area of the body that could be healed using the plant (as in Bloodwort, Bruisewort, and Woundwort–which is also a fine name for evil rabbit overlords) or it would indicate something about the shape of the plant. Often the only reason it seems people used a plant to treat a particular ailment is because it looked like a certain part of the body (Lungwort, for example). If it also happened to be medically efficacious, that was a bonus. For a nice long list of “wort” plants, click here.

Spiderwort comes in a nice array of purple shades, from lavender to nearly blue. Occasionally you see a pink or white form. They clump nicely, which makes them a useful garden plant in partial shade. These perennials are very easy to care for (really, you don’t have to do anything to encourage them–one of many lovely things about using native plants in your gardening).

Reference: Wildflowers of Michigan by Stan Tekiela; Adventure Publications, 2000