by Jane Scully
The late-spring/summer wildflowers often have a longer growing season and thrive in warm, dryer conditions. This is true for spiderwort.
Similar in coloring to blue-eyed grass, it is nevertheless a sturdier-looking plant of 8 to 24 inches in height that blooms from April through July in wooded borders, thickets, meadows and roadsides.
The spiderwort's 3 broad, roundish petals of the blue or purple flowers are a stronger color than the blue-eyed grass. Spiderwort has 6 showy yellow stamens with "bearded filaments" that rise from the center of the 1 to 2 inch flower that are hairy like the stalks of the plant. The leaves are green, long and narrow like iris, and are folded lengthwise to form a channel. The angular leaf arrangement is said to suggest a squatting spider, giving the flower its common name.
Most characteristic is the flower cluster at the top of the stem (known as a terminal cluster) that produces many blooms. This is crucial because the flowers open only in the morning and last only a few hours. The petals then wilt and turn into a jelly-like fluid. New flowers bloom the next morning.
- The genus Tradescantia is named in honor of Tradescant, gardener to Charles I of England.
- The hairy stamens consist of a row of thin-walled cells forming a chain. They are a favorite subject for microscopic examination in biology classes because the flowing cytoplasm and nucleus can be seen easily.
- Root tea of this and other spiderwort species were used by American Indians for "female," kidney and stomach ailments, and as a laxative. Smashed leaves were made into a poultice and applied to insect bites, stings and cancers.
Spiderwort can be seen throughout the region and at several of our parks. Check our Nature Finder feature and search our Wildflower database for a site near you to find this-and many, many other gorgeous wildflowers.