Monday, January 1, 2024

Ohio Spiderwort: a pollinator-friendly native wildflower

A small fly-like bee was pollinating this flower.

Bluejacket or Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) is native to most of Eastern North America and to most of Florida. It attracts pollinators, especially bees. Each day, one or two flowers bloom in each flower head. They open early in the morning and then wilt in the afternoon. Each flower head contains twenty or more flowers and new flower heads are formed throughout the long season from early spring to late fall. There is a long blooming season.

There are three other species of spiderworts native to Florida: hairy spiderwort (T. hirsutiflora), longleaf spiderwort (T. roseolens), and zigzag spiderwort (T. subaspera). But the bluejacket has the largest native range and is the one that's most readily available from the native trade.

Spiderworts are monocots and are in the Commelina family (Commelinaceae), which includes 36 genera world wide, but only five occur in Florida. "Spiderwort" refers to the sap which dries into web-like threads when a stem is cut.

The range includes most of eastern North America.

The scientific name of the genus chosen by Carl Linnaeus honors the English naturalists and explorers John Tradescant the Elder (c. 1570s – 1638) and John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662), who mounted three expeditions to the new colony of Virginia. From there the type species, Tradescantia virginiana, was brought to England in 1629.


Flowers and stems can be eaten raw, while the leaves can be cooked. Leaves of the plant are mucilaginous and can be used to soothe insect bites in a similar way to aloe vera.

Each flower lasts only a few hours, but the flower heads include many flowers, so there is a long
blooming cycle with only a few blooming per day.
The long leaves are folded around the flower heads. The color varies even within one population. The colors are normally light blue to dark violet, but pink and white are also seen.

Thick clumps of spiderworts are common if they are grown in flower beds with little or no competition. 
If they become too unruly, cut them off a ground level and they'll grow back even thicker. 

Spiderwort in a freedom lawn, which
is not a problem. Click this link for more
information on freedom lawns
Spiderwort seedlings next to a raised
vegetable garden bed. I'll remove them
so they don't spread into the crops.

Aggressive reseeders

Spiderworts are aggressive spreaders, so one mistake I made was planting them near my vegetable gardens to attract pollinators. They do attract pollinators but they also reseeded themselves into and around my vegetable beds. They also have deep roots, so if you don't pull them out as seedlings, the tops break from the roots of mature plants unless you use a weed digger to pry them out. My plan is to totally remove it from around the vegetable areas to reduce weeding into the future.

In a pollinator garden, they are also aggressive so you may need to thin them out to make room for a variety of other pollinator plants. I'm happy to have them out in the wilder areas and meadows where their long blooming cycle is a welcome addition. Someone posted a photo of this spiderwort with the question, "Is this a native or a weed?" The answer is, "Yes!"

So I hope you'll add some spiderworts to your landscape, especially in your pollinator gardens and wilder meadows.

To learn more, here is the link to the FNPS profile for this spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis), which also includes a link to native plant vendors that have this plant in stock.

Green Gardening Matters,
Ginny Stibolt

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