Spiderwort

COMMON NAME: spiderwort
GENUS: Tradescantia
SPECIES, HYBRIDS: T. andersoniana {hybrid of T. bracteata and T. virginiana}
FAMILY: Commelinaceae
BLOOMS: summer
TYPE: perennial
DESCRIPTION: The three petals of the spiderwort blossom are gently scalloped and beautifully colored. Hybrids developed from two native North American species have resulted in flowers in shades of blue, pinks, reds, and white. The foliage is long, narrow, and grasslike. This plant has a very long blooming period, generally lasting from early summer until frost. Blossoms close by midday, but new flowers appear early the next morning.
CULTIVATION: Spiderworts need rich, well-drained soil but perform equally well in full sun or light shade. Water them regularly, and top-dress the plants in the fall with organic matter.

Although spiderwort in its species form is considered something of an aggressive weed, the flowers resulting from hybridization are lovely and the growth habit quite suited to the formal garden.
The name spiderwort has several possible origins. The leaves of the plant are long and narrow, reminding some of spider legs. This plant was used at one time as a cure for spider bites.
Enzyme action within the plant causes the flowers, after they have been pollinated, not to shrivel when they die, but to turn into a runny blob. This characteristic has given it names like Moses in the bulrushes and widow’s tears.
The genus was named for John Tradescant and his son, who were royal gardeners to King Charles I of England. They were responsible for bringing many new plants to England from the colonies.
Spiderwort is extremely sensitive to varying levels of pollution and will quickly undergo mutations that change the color of the stamens. Recently it has been discovered that not only is spiderwort useful in indicating pollution from pesticides, herbicides, auto exhaust, and sulpher dioxide, but it is also extremely sensitive to low levels of radiation. According to Norman Myer’s book A Wealth of Wild Species, spiderwort may measure radiation levels better than a mechanical counter, such as a dosimeter, for the machine is limited to detecting external exposure, whereas the plant indicates internal damage as well. The stamens of spiderwort change color in only ten to fifteen days after exposure. Now being marketed commercially by a company in California, spiderwort is being used to detect harmful pollution levels as well as the presence of cancer-causing radiation.

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