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June Flora Spotlight:
Spiderwort

Spiderwort
Tradescantia 

There are several explanations as to how spiderwort earned its name. Some say it was named because the flowers and buds appear to hang like spiders from the top of the stems. “Wort” is the Saxon name for plant. Another reference says it was once used as a medicine to treat spider bites. In Missouri sources claim 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.

As for Trandescantia, John Trandescant the younger was a botanist and gardener who collected plants and seeds in Virginia from 1628-1637 and returned to England to introduce them to gardens there. It is a common practice to name species after oneself. 

The Gardens have four species of spiderworts in its collection.  The most recent addition is  Trandescantia virginiana, Virginia spiderwort. The flowers vary in color from deep blue, purple, pink and pure white. It grows two to three-feet tall and prefers moist soil and full sun to partial shade. Trandescabtia ohiensis, Ohio spiderwort, prefers sandy open areas and full sun, conditions that simulate its native tall grass prairie. It grows three feet tall with light blue flowers. Trandescantia subaspera, wide-leaved spiderwort, prefers dry to mesic woodlands and forest. Trandescantia hirsuticaulis, Small Harry Spiderwort, likes dry rocky woodlands and rock outcrops especially granitic flat rocks and domes. 

Spiderworts are relatively free of insect and disease problems. By mid-summer the plant 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. Spiderworts are not considered invasive; however it does fill an area within a few years. Divide the plants every three to four years in the spring or early fall.

The Cherokee used Spiderwort as an ingredient in several preparations for female and kidney problems. They used a tea for digestive problems and would rub crushed leaves on insect bites for stings. A root poultice was used for cancer.

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