Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the March 27, 2011 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO

Above you can see an attractive, purple-leafed, foot-tall herb doing very well growing in thin soil in cracks in the bedrock limestone outcropping in my front yard. A close-up of one of its pale purple, three-petaled, six-stamened flowers can be seen below:

Purple Spiderwort, TRADESCANTIA PALLIDA, flower

That flower looks like it's emerging from some kind of slit, and it is -- from a long, narrow opening between edges of a branch-tip, folded-together leaf, as shown below:


Often grown as an ornamental in gardens, along borders, as ground cover and as a hanging plant, this plant goes by lots of English names. Maybe its most common one is Wandering Jew, but that name is shared by so many similar species that it's practically useless if you need to look up the plant. Other names include Purple Spiderwort, Purple Heart and Purple Queen. It's TRADESCANTIA PALLIDA of the Spiderwort Family, the Commelinaceae, native to Mexico's Gulf Coast region, but apparently not to the Yucatán.

The pretty flowers last for only one day, but usually a new blossom emerges from the slit the previous day's flower arose from, day after day for a good while. Older leaves die back leaving naked stems, which can give the plant a leggy look, but the plant is so vigorous that scraggly parts can be pulled out and new sprouts quickly form dense, new growth. If you're in a frost-free zone, however, be careful, because discarded stems often root and grow. In southern Florida, Australia and other places Purple Spiderwort is regarded as an invasive, hard-to-control weed.

In my front yard, however, its purple herbage is very pretty against the white limestone, and it thrives where other less vigorous plants wither from the limestone's reflected light and heat.