photo of Tradescantia ohiensis common name spiderwort

Plant Profile: Spiderwort – April 2022

Latin Name
Tradescantia ohiensis

 

Family
Commelinaceae

 

Common Names
Spiderwort, Bluejacket Spiderwort, Ohio Spiderwort, Widow’s Tears, Spider lily

 

Varieties
T. ohiensis is most common throughout North and Central Florida, while T. hirsutiflora is found throughout the Panhandle. T. virginia is another common variety found outside of Florida and a popular search result when looking for information regarding “Spiderwort” on the internet. However, there are differences. Tradescantia ohiensis is likely to be taller, spindly and more tolerant of hot sunny sites than other Tradescantia species. Compared to the similar T. virginiana, this species has little pubescence on the sepals and grayish blue tinged leaves.

 

To see where natural populations of Spiderwort have been verified in Florida visit https://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu

Spiderwort is also commonly mistaken for Dayflower (Commelina erecta) due to similarities in appearance. T. ohiensis have three symmetrical blue petals with yellow stamens. Dayflowers have ephemeral flowers with two blue petals and a third white petal.

 

Habitat
Perennial native to the Americas and to Florida. It is easy to cultivate and takes root readily from cuttings. Often grown as ground cover in warmer climates, it can be found on roadsides, in Florida lawns, and prefers full sun to part shade. Well-drained sandy soil is ideal, making Florida an ideal home for this plant ally.

 

Parts Used
Aerial—leaves and flowers can be added to salads, and the greens can be cooked. However, the flowers are only in bloom in the morning, and will begin to close by midday. While the flowers last less than a day, the plant puts out new flowers for six to eight weeks out of the year in spring and early summer in most of the country. In Florida, it blooms throughout the year with the height of blooming in spring.

 

The sap from a torn leaf or stem is mucilaginous and said to have a soothing effect on mosquito bites and scratches.

 

History/Tradition
Native to America, Spiderwort was used by indigenous people for its pain relief on insect bites, as food, and possibly as a tea for laxative properties. This may be what drew the famous Colonist John Smith (1580-1631) to take notice and bring seeds back to England.

The botanical name Tradescantia is named for John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662) who was the gardener to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, king of England 1624-1649 and Smith’s friend. Tradescant took to the plant and used it in the royal gardens, and the plant is still popular in English gardens today.

 

According to Peggy Lantz in regards to the common name, wort stems from the Old English word wyrt that simply means “plant,” and has survived in the common names of plants to indicate a medicinal use to the plant. She writes, “The first part of the word (in this case, ‘spider’) indicated the malady or the source of the malady that the pant might heal. Since today we know that they juice from the leaves does have a healing effect, it seems logical to conclude that spiderwort served to ease the symptoms of a spider bite, and that’s where it got its name.”

Other disputed reasons for why the plant is commonly known as spiderwort include the viscous sap that resembles a spider thread when a leaf or the stem is broken; the clusters of blossoms resemble spiders hanging from their web; and the dew on the plants stamen hairs is said to look like dew drops on a spider’s web.

 

Culinary Use
All parts of T. ohiensis are edible. The stalks when steamed compare to asparagus. Tender young leaves can be steamed as well or used fresh in a salad. The flowers can also be added to a salad or eaten as a snack while walking or working outdoors. However, always use caution when eating wild weeds. Choose caution when the presence of insecticides or pesticides is unknown, and avoid eating wild weeds within a 100 ft of a roadway.

For a quick recipe: try sautéing the stems and leaves with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper or any spices of your choosing, and eat over rice, quinoa, pasta, or just as they are.

 

References:
Boas, Sherry. “Spiderwort Is a Valuable Botanical Beauty.” Orlando Sentinel, April 8, 2013. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-xpm-2013-04-08-os-lk-sherry-boas-040813-20130408-story.html. 

 

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “spiderwort.” Encyclopedia Britannica, January 30, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/plant/spiderwort.

 

Deane, Green. “Spiderwort: Pocahontas and Gamma Rays.” Eat The Weeds and other things, too, March 6, 2018. https://www.eattheweeds.com/spiderwort-pocahontas-and-gamma-rays/. 

 

Lantz, Peggy Sias. “Spiderwort and Dayflower.” In Florida’s Edible Wild Plants: A Guide to Collecting and Cooking, 79–80. Gainesville, Florida: Seaside Publishing, 2014. 

 

“Spiderwort.” Florida Wildflower Foundation, February 28, 2014. https://www.flawildflowers.org/flower-friday-tradescantia/

 

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