Tradescantia fluminensis: Small leaf spiderwort

Family: Commelinaceae
Common name: Small leaf spiderwort, Inch plant, Wandering jew, Wandering willie, Wandering gypsy, River spiderwort, Wandering trad, Spider wort, Spiderwort, Wandering creeper, Wandering tradescantia, White flowered wandering jew, Wandering trad

Small leaf spiderworts are ideal plants for hanging baskets in balconies and terrace gardens, falling in cascading green rivulets along the sides of the pots. They also make good groundcover plants on ledges and areas with not much soil. Ther are called inch plants since the trailing stems have nodes almost one inch apart.

The plants only grow to a height of 10-15 cms above the ground but can spread almost indefinitely since the trailing green stems are capable of rooting to the nodes. Small pieces of stem that got detached from the parent plant can also produce new plants in no time. So they are preferred ornamental plants in gardens, especially in tropical countries.

Leaves are dark green, pointy, glossy, and succulent, almost oval with a pointy end. They are about 3-6 cms long with the lower end wrapping around the stem like a sheath.

Small leaf spiderwort plants produce tiny white flowers that are about .5-1 cm in diameter. Stamens are clearly visible above the petals. These flowers later form small capsule-like fruits that have 3 chambers containing seeds; although flowering and fruiting are quite rare in houseplants.

Small leaf spiderwort plants like to grow in the shade, and too much sun might lead to scorching and drying of leaves. But since they are succulents, they can survive without water for a few days.

Though they are garden favorites, they are considered invasive weeds in many countries because of their capability to propagate vegetatively even from small portions of stem. Since Small leaf spiderwort plants form large mats along the ground, they can smother native vegetation or small seedlings, thus affecting the ecosystem.

Methods like hand plucking and chemical control have all been tried to get rid of these pesky little plants. Browsing animals like cows and chickens can help in biological control of these plants, without harming the soil or surrounding vegetation.

Popular variants are Tricolor with pink, cream, and green leaves; Variegata with green and cream variegated leaves; Albovittata with white stripes on top of the leaves and purple color underneath; Lilac with lilac-colored variegated leaves.

Two closely related species are Tradescantia spathacea or Boatlilies with larger leaves and plants; and Tradescantia zebrina with variegated purple leaves

Propagation is through seeds or stem cuttings, the latter method being the most efficient.