Common Spiderwort

Tradescantia ohiensis

Description & Overview

This Wisconsin native, perennial forb has grass-like leaves accompanied by blue, three-petaled flowers that grow in loose clusters at the end of a stalk. The combination of foliage and flowers is rather distinctive. The flowers open in the morning and close by mid-afternoon, typically lasting only a day. Regardless, the plant’s overall bloom time is up to three months!

You may also know this plant as Ohio Spiderwort or Bluejacket.

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 16-40 inches
Mature Spread: 18-30 inches
Growth Rate: Fast
Growth Form: Clumping, spreading
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Full Shade
Site Requirements: Dry to wet, sandy to loamy soil, Acid to alkaline soils. Tolerates clay
Flower: Mostly blue, sometimes pink or even white. Three petals.
Bloom Period: May through July
Foliage: Blue-green, Grass-like appearance
Fall Color: NA
Fruit Notes: Dry capsules that explosively release upon ripening. Inside the capsule is 2-6 grayish oblong seeds.

Suggested Uses:

Common Spiderwort is relatively common along the eastern portion of Wisconsin down to its southern border. It is found in a wide variety of sites, tolerating just about any type of soil you can find in this state. Truth be told, this plant is adaptable, tough, and easy to grow. Adding a long blooming period to the mix makes Common Spiderwort a great addition to, not just a native urban landscape, but a traditional one as well.

Common Spiderwort can be added to rain gardens as it can handle moist to wet soil. Add it to pollinator gardens as it is visited by bees. It will spread, so keep this in mind when choosing a site. A park would also be a great choice as it has the added bonus of being non-toxic.

For all its benefits it is intolerant of salt. Do not plant along a road or walkway.

Wildlife Value:

White-tailed Deer, rabbits, turtles, tortoises and livestock eat the foliage and flowers.

Common Spiderwort flowers do not have nectaries; therefore, insects use this plant’s flowers strictly for their pollen. Bees are the main pollinators of Spiderworts, particularly Bumblebees. Sweat Bees, Green Sweat Bees, Mason Bees, Small Carpenter Bees, and European Wool Carder Bees seek out pollen to provision their nests. Other visitors include Syrphid Flies, Bee Flies, and Leaf Beetles.

Watery fluid and secretions from the plant accumulate in the calyces of the flowers and are used as a source of water, and in some cases food, by some insects including bees and flies. While lacking nectar, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Karner Blue Butterlies, and Peck’s Skipper will explore the flowers.

Birds and small animals can seek shelter in the foliage.

Maintenance Tips:

Common Spiderwort self-seeds and can also spread through vegetative offshoots. The seeds begin to develop in June. It can spread aggressively in fertile soils, to halt seed production and slow spread, flower stalks and foliage can be cut back after flowering. This also helps to keep the foliage tidy as it tends to look a little used later in the season.

If plants go dormant, try to site alongside other perennials to help mask unkemptness.


Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

Overall, no real serious pests or diseases are associated with Spiderwort.

Snails can sometimes damage the plant, though this is not a common pest.

Leaf Lore:

Historically, there was a belief that if a plant had similar qualities to other objects in the natural world, then that plant could be used as a remedy for those objects. Spiderwort was once used as a cure for tarantism, which was believed to have been caused by the bite of a spider (tarantula). When pulled apart, the leaves of Spiderwort break down into fine threads, reminiscent of a spider’s web.

“Wort” is the old English name for a plant, root, or herb. Ergo the common name Spiderwort. Other examples of plants named using this reasoning are Liverwort, Spleenwort, and Lungwort. So, Spiderwort is the herb to help with the bite from spider, or tarantism.

The genus was named after the gardener to King Charles I, John Tradescant, Sr.

The Lakota people used the blue of the flowers to paint moccasins. When touched in the heat of day, the flowers shrivel to a fluid jelly.

Another name for Spiderwort is Cowslobber due to its mucilaginous leaves.

In studies performed at Kyoto University and Brookhaven National Lab, the cells in Spiderwort’s stamen hairs were found to turn pink at a reliable rate when exposed to radiation, making it a reliable indicator of not only the presence, but also the amount of radiation in the environment.

Companion Plants:

Make a beautiful native meadow by combining Common Spiderwort with Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Prairie Dropseed Grass (Sporobolus heterolepis), Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), Carex spp., Goldenrods (Solidago spp.), Nodding Pink Onion (Allium cernuum), and Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).

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