Tradescantia occidentalis (Spiderwort)

Plant Info
Also known as: Prairie Spiderwort, Western Spiderwort
Genus:Tradescantia
Family:Commelinaceae (Spiderwort)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry sandy soil; prairies, along roads, edges of woods
Bloom season:May - September
Plant height:10 to 24 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: UPL NCNE: UPL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 3-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] A raceme of up to 10 flowers at the top of the stem, and at the ends of branching arising from leaf axils; only 1 to a few open at a time. Flowers are 1 to 2 inches across, 3 round to egg-shaped petals with 6 bright yellow tipped stamens covered in long blue hairs in the lower half. Color ranges from blue to deep blue-violet and is occasionally pink or white. The flowers open in the morning and typically wilt by noon on hot days.

[photo of bracts] The 3 sepals and flower stalk are sparsely to densely covered in short glandular hairs, usually with a small tuft of non-glandular hairs at the tip. At the base of the flower cluster are 2 leaf-like bracts of unequal size, usually shorter and narrower than the leaves and folded lengthwise.

Leaves: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are narrow blades up to 15 inches long, to 1 inch wide, toothless and hairless, sheathing the stem. Each leaf is rather stiff, folded lengthwise with parallel veins. Stems are slender and smooth can have a bit of a zig-zag appearance due to the jointed leaf attachment. Plants are typically branched from leaf axils.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of seed] Fruit is rounded capsule containing up to 6 dark gray seeds. Seed is generally oval with a groove on one side and a hole on the other, the germ nestled inside. A pattern of ribs radiates from the center like the spokes of a wagon wheel.

Notes:

There are 3 species of Spiderwort in Minnesota, all with similar flowers. Prairie Spiderwort is the most slender and spidery of the three, with stiffer leaves and bracts that are consistently folded up the middle. Long-bracted Spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata) has longer and denser hairs on the bracts and flower stalks, bracts that are often wider and longer than the leaves, and is rarely branched. Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) has hairless sepals and relatively flat, floppy leaves. There are 2 varieties of T. occidentalis in the U.S., with var. occidentalis found in Minnesota; var. scopulorum is found in southwestern states.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County, and at Wild River State Park, Chisago County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Helen Allison SNA, Anoka County, and in Ramsey County.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: randy - St. Paul
on: 2008-06-18 22:27:24

There is a bunch of this along the railroad tracks below West 7th street in St. Paul. Mostly purple but a couple of blues, pinkish and white ones. Don't know that they are not escapees though.

Posted by: Ray
on: 2009-07-09 12:27:04

We saw some in the Boutwells Landing prairie plantings. Your wonderful site helped us confirm it.

Posted by: Earl C
on: 2009-07-09 14:03:53

My neighbor has a few growing along her backyard fence line. She said that I could transplant a few to a small prairie garden I'm starting next to my garage.She did not realize that they were native flowers and was planning on removing them.

Posted by: Linda - mn
on: 2010-06-01 11:14:02

Just seen some this morning in a heavy wooded/swamp area. Only seen the one, & it was a beautiful blue. Thanks to this site I was able to identify it. I have heard of it & may have seen it befor in Northern MN. Wish I'd had my camera with - darn!

Posted by: Dusty - Morrison County
on: 2010-06-01 11:14:02

I have been trying to grow grass in my front yard when this plant showed up in abundance. I am glad to have a name for it thanks to your site. Its a very pretty flower and I plan on transplanting them from my grass to my planters where I have wild flowers growing. Its a very beautiful plant, but the flowers here are a pink to a dark purple. Thanks for helping me to solve this mystery.

Posted by: Elizabeth - Cannon Falls
on: 2010-06-21 20:42:38

We have quite few of these beautiful purple/blue plants growing in our field. The flowers are pretty, but the leaf structure makes them really unique.

Posted by: Linda - Stillwater
on: 2011-06-02 12:49:57

Saw a lot down by Harriet Island in St Paul near the Marina/band shell

Posted by: Cindy - Minneapolis
on: 2011-06-27 00:39:26

I have spiderwort growing all around my home in Northeast Minneapolis. I have been inviting people over for years to dig some up and start their own populations.

Posted by: Elizabeth - Andover
on: 2011-07-25 00:22:11

This comes up in our backyard on a volunteer basis. I love it and transplant all I find to a small wild patch in a back corner.

Posted by: Troy - Rochester
on: 2012-05-01 13:21:43

I found an significant population of these along a railroad track behind Mayo field (baseball park where the Honkers play). This is in Olmsted county (not marked on your distribution map).

Posted by: Judy - Big Lake township
on: 2012-05-21 16:22:39

I've had these blooming in my back yard for several years now, and finally, thanks to a book I bought in Grand Marais and this website, I know what they are! This year I see that I have 3 patches of them; I probably can thank the birds for helping out. It makes my day when I look out into what used to be a hayfield and see that pretty patch of blue.

Posted by: Cindy - Bayport
on: 2012-05-24 09:01:49

I love this bright plant I have pink, purple, blueish purple that are in bloom now, these I was given by my sister and a neighbor. I bought a white spiderwort last summer and have yet to see it bloom.

Posted by: daniel - Crystal
on: 2012-05-31 18:34:24

This has stated to grow in our yard. Very nice plant, we are glad to have identified.

Posted by: Pati - Big lake
on: 2013-06-06 11:41:51

We have this in our garden. Be careful - I consider it invasive - it spreads very easily via underground runners and it is hard to kill, even if you pull it or dig it out and try to get all of the roots. I have applied Roundup to abouot 20 plants with a sponge brush: I wiped each individual leaf. It didn't help a thing - the leaves didn't turn brown or curl or anything. This was in late April when they were small and I tried again with that same batch in mid-May. Same result. This reminds me of creeping charlie....It will crowd out and kill other plants unless it is weeded out every other day.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2013-06-06 14:24:47

Pati, I have read that several Tradescantia species can be aggressive in fertile soils but I have never seen T. occidentalis behave aggressively in the dry, sandy soil where it is more commonly found in the wild. The amount of competition from other plants is likely a factor as well. It's a beautiful plant so I wouldn't give up on it yet, but maybe transplanting to more "natural" soil conditions might be in order. And as you've discovered, Round-up doesn't work on everything.

Posted by: Jeanne - Grey Cloud Sand Dunes DNR Scientific Natural Area
on: 2015-06-21 16:19:31

Lots of spiderwort on the sand dunes with other wildflowers

Posted by: Summer - Minneapolis
on: 2017-05-29 08:53:01

Some incredibly bright fuchsia spiderwort popped up on the street edge lawn. I added the typical purple spiderwort years ago to the yard (I love the plant), but somehow this weird, yet stunning color appeared! Is this a different kind, or is it a genetic variation? The pink color in the examples above doesn't come close to what I'm seeing.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-05-29 09:50:14

Spiderwort flower color is highly variable, from shades of pink to purple to blue. It's just natural variation.

Posted by: Mindy E - Brainerd
on: 2017-06-01 06:22:06

We found some yesterday in a field and transplanted it into our wildflower garden. Didn't know what it was... it's beautiful. Dark purple. Thanks!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-06-01 07:25:17

Mindy, please don't dig plants from the wild, unless it's on your own property or you have the landowner's permission, even if the landowner is a state, county or local agency. There are enough other causes of the decline in native species and habitats without people digging them up, too. There are plenty of native plant nurseries that sell spiderwort. Please check them out.

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