Skip Navigation and Section Links - Go To Content Your online down home newspaper


Gardening - Swallowtail visits flower ImagePlant of the Week: Spiderwort

By Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

September 5, 2007


Wildflowers typically take up residence in our gardens by one of two routes: either on their own accord or, more often, we plant them. Plant breeders can make striking improvements to common wildflowers including spiderwort (shown above).

Photo credit: Heidi Sheesley, TreeSearch Farms

Plant Seminar & Sale

Plant Seminar & Sale

WHAT: Master Gardeners’ Ornamental & Perennial Seminar & Sale

DATE: October 6, 2007

TIME: Seminar at 8:00 a.m., plant sale from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

PLACE: Wayne Johnson Community Center located in Carbide Park at 4102 FM 519 in La Marque CONTACT: Galveston County Extension Office (218-534-3413, ext. 1-2) or web site below

Wildflowers typically take up residence in our gardens by one of two routes: either on their own accord or, more often, we plant them. Spiderworts are an example—you can wait for the wild form to make its way into your garden or you can pick-and-choose from a colorful selection of improved spiderworts to be offered at the Master Gardeners’ Ornamental & Perennial Seminar & Sale.

As wildflowers, spiderworts are spring ephemerals that provide striking displays of floral color. The characteristic three-petaled spiderwort flowers are produced in a terminal cluster in shades of blue, pink or white from mid spring till early summer. Flowers last but a single day, but plants continue to bloom. When the stems of spiderworts are cut, a secretion is released which becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening—hence the common name.

Spiderwort has a history of confusion and misidentification. Surprisingly, it was one of the earliest New World plants introduced to Europe, primarily because it was mistaken for a plant that Algonquin Indians used in weaving.

The second misidentification came when early 17th century botanists began classifying plants. Spiderwort is named after John Tradescant Sr., the head gardener for King Charles I of England. As a subscriber to the Virginia Co., Tradescant received shipments of a number of American plants, including the Virginia spiderwort. On page 49 of his 1633 Herbal, John Gerard illustrates with a block cut print a plant he calls "Phalangium Virginianum Tradescanti," giving as its common English name "Tradescants Virginian Spiderwort." It’s the spiderwort we know today as T. virginiana.

Gerard illustrates four other spiderworts, none of which are related to the plant we know today by that name. Reading his discussion of "the vertues" of using these plants, we find they are to be ground up and mixed with ale to protect against the bite of a Phalangium spider. Phalangium spiders, it turns out, are actually close relatives of spiders and non-venomous. They are commonly called harvester spiders, the most common being daddy-longlegs.

Mixing spiderworts with ale was a good excuse for a midsummer drinking binge to help ward off "dancing madness," a common problem in rural areas. Afflicted people had headaches, sweating, trembling and twitching. The problem was probably caused by ergot-infected rye (a type of fungal infection of the seed) but spider bites were blamed. Patients who imbibed the spiderwort infused ale twitched and danced about the villages until the effects of ergot poisoning—or the alcohol—wore off.

Occasionally, a common wildflower will be improved upon by a plant breeder and become an integral component of plants grown in the nursery trade. That is now happening with Tradescantia, the common spiderwort growing in moist woodlands and even along highways.

In this instance, plant breeders have made striking improvements to this hardy wildflower. The hybrid spiderworts are clump-forming perennials with narrow, slightly arching foliage. Spiderworts should be planted in moist, fertile soil in part sun or shade. They can be used in containers, as a mass planting or at the edge of a pond.

The lightly fragrant flowers pop out one or two at a time—opening 1½ inches wide and flat in the heat of the day, then fading to be replaced by new blooms the next morning. Our collection of hybrid spiderworts to be available at the Master Gardeners’ Ornamental & Perennial Seminar & Sale includes the following cultivars:

• ‘Concord Grape’ Spiderwort: ‘Concord Grape’ has clusters of bright violet blue, three-petaled flowers with fuzzy purple stamens topped with golden yellow pollen. The foliage is blue-green.

• ‘Purple Profusion’ Spiderwort: ‘Purple Profusion’ has deep green foliage with purple striping. Bright deep purple triangular flowers with gold stamens attract pollinating insects.

• ‘Red Grape’ Spiderwort: ‘Red Grape’ provides a rosy hue for brightly shaded area of the garden. It has blue-green foliage and triangular red-violet flowers with fuzzy magenta stamens tipped with golden yellow pollen.

• ‘Snow Cap’ Spiderwort: ‘Snow Cap’ will brighten up a shady area! Its triangular snow white flowers contrast beautifully with the blue-green foliage.

• ‘Sweet Kate’ Spiderwort: ‘Sweet Kate’ offers a vibrant golden-yellow foliage that contrasts beautifully with the profusion of large deep blue flowers produced. This cultivar can serve as a bright companion for purple-foliaged plants.

Spiderworts are easy to grow and provide variety to the landscape. Make a note on your gardening calendar to attend the Master Gardeners’ Ornamental & Perennial Seminar & Sale to see this collection and well a variety of other plants for the home landscape.

Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County Extension Office of Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at

Gardening: Scale insects and pampas grass - July 17, 2004 article

Gardening: Bananas - August 1, 2004 article

Gardening: August Gardening Calendar - August 16, 2004 article

Gardening: Trio Of Extension Programs Includes Pear Tasting, Master Naturalist Class & Rose Seminar - August 20, 2004 article

Gardening: Prepare Now For Fall Gardens - August 26, 2004 article

Gardening: September's Garden Calendar Includes Fall Pecan Field Day - September 2, 2004 article

Gardening: Ornamental Grasses - September 8, 2004 article

Gardening: Don't Let Landscape Become A High-Maintenance Nightmare - September 22, 2004 article

Gardening: Oct. 10 Plant Sale & Seminar To Feature Butterfly Gardening - Butterflies Bring Color, Motion to Garden - October 2, 2004 article

Gardening: Plant It And They Will Come: Getting the Butterflies of Galveston County to Grace Your Yard - October 2, 2004 article

Gardening: Rose Propagation & Seasonal Decorating Workshops To Be Held - October 13, 2004 article

Gardening: Extension Office To Sponsor Open House On October 29, Seasonal Decorations and Onion and Garlic Workshops - October 20, 2004 article

Gardening: Extension Office To Sponsor Open House On October 29 and County Pecan Show - October 27, 2004 article

Gardening: November Is Pansy Time - November 6, 2004 article

Gardening: County Pecan Growers Display Their Successes - November 11, 2004 article

Gardening: Gardeners' Questions On Fall Crops - November 17, 2004 article

Gardening: Gardeners' Q&As For November - November 28, 2004 article

Gardening: Gardeners' December Checklist Includes Citrus Show On Dec. 9 - December 3, 2004 article

Gardening: Citrus Show A Huge Success With 185 Entries - December 19, 2004 article

Gardening: Trees and Shrubs - December 23, 2004 article

Gardening: Cold Weather Impact - January 4, 2005 article

Gardening: Gardeners' Checklist For January Includes Several Educational Programs - January 7, 2005 article

Gardening:Announcing the 2005 Galveston County Master Gardener Training - January 13, 2005 article

Gardening:Peach & Plum Growers' Workshop To Be Held Saturday, January 29 - January 19, 2005 article

Gardening: Gardening for Texas Wildlife - January 28, 2005 article

Gardening: Wide Variety of Citrus to Be Available at February 5 Fruit Tree Sale and Home Citrus Production - January 31, 2005 article

Gardening: Fruit Trees Of The Gods Featured In February 5 Master Gardener Plant Sale - February 2, 2005 article

Gardening: "If I Were A Tomato, I Would Want To Be Grown In Texas . . . Galveston County, That Is!" Workshop to be held February 12 - February 9, 2005 article

Gardening: February Is Rose Pruning Time...Attend Rose Care Seminar to Learn How - February 16, 2005 article

Gardening: Extension Activities At The Home & Garden Show On Feb. 26-27 - February 23, 2005 article

Gardening: March Gardening Calendar Includes Seminar On Butterfly Gardening - March 2, 2005 article

Gardening: Gardeners' Q&As From The Galveston Home & Garden Show - March 10, 2005 article

Gardening: Extension Offers Program On "Living To Be 100 . . . A Commonsense Approach." - March 16, 2005 article

Gardening: Program On Plumeria Offered On March 26- March 29, 2005 article

Gardening: Garden Checklist For April Includes Pecan Field Day - April 6, 2005 article

Gardening: Hints On Harvesting Vegetables For Peak Flavor - April 15, 2005 article

Gardening: Fresh Blueberries From Your Home Garden Seminar On Saturday, April 23 - April 22, 2005 article

Gardening: Learn About Weed Control - April 27, 2005 article

Gardening: Home Gardening Chores and May 14 Home Fruit Growers’ Tour - May 5, 2005 article

© 2004-2006
League City Area News Online.
All rights reserved.
The opinions expressed in this or any other column are those of the author, not the League City Area News Online or its staff or any of its affiliates. Any and all responses to any of the columnists are welcome.
Web design by Webmaster
Marilyn Clark.
Send comments and Letters to the Editor to:
League City Area News Online, P. O. Box 1693, League City, Texas 77574-1693

Please include your address and phone number for verification purposes.
Send e-mail to the Webmaster if there are problems with the web site.