Tradescantia has more than 65 species, native to North, Central and South America. Many are hardy and can be grown outdoors but several of the tropical species, which are tender, have become popular house plants in the UK. These include the variegated silver-striped Tradescantia zebrina, Tradescantia fluminensis, which has small leaves, trailing stems and white flowers, and Tradescantia cerinthoides 'Nanouk', with variegated pink and purple leaves that have green and white stripes.


They do have 3-petalled flowers that can be white, blue, lavender, purple or pink, but tradescantia house plants are grown mainly for their foliage. The flowers will usually appear in the summer if plants are provided with sufficient bright light. Too much sun, however, can result in the leaves developing a purple colour, while for the purple-leaved varieties, a lack of light can result in the purple foliage fading.

This colourful plant was named by Carl Linnaeus, in honour of John Tradescant, and his son, who had the same name. Both were plant hunters and explorers during the 17th century, discovering many new plants that were grown in British gardens. Tradescantia also has many interesting common names including inch plant, spiderwort and wandering Jew. This latter name has been replaced by many nurseries with the name 'Wandering Dude' due to its antisemitic connotations. This is a good house plant that is easy to grow, as long as it is given the right growing conditions.

How to grow tradescantia

Tradescantia grows best in a spot that gets bright, indirect light. The soil should be moist, but not waterlogged. Water regularly, checking to see when the top couple of inches of soil are dry.

Where to grow tradescantia

Tradescantia albiflora. Getty Images
Tradescantia cerinthoides 'Nanouk'. Getty Images

The tender species of tradescantia are grown as house plants, although some can be grown outdoors during the summer and brought indoors over winter. Tradescantia zebrina, for example, can be moved outdoors during summer, but should be brought indoors when the temperatures drop to around 10ºC. Indoors, tradescantia house plants need bright light, but not direct sunlight.

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These house plants are well suited to hanging planters indoors, or shelves, where their attractive, trailing foliage can hang down and be appreciated.

How to plant tradescantia

Use a good quality potting compost when repotting your house plant. Check the bottom of the pot once a year, to see whether it needs repotting – if there are lots of roots coming out of the holes it may need a slightly bigger pot.

How to care for tradescantia

Misting tradescantia. Getty Images
Misting tradescantia. Getty Images

Keep tradescantia in a warm room that has a temperature between 18-24ºC and place it away from any draughts. In the summer, water regularly, when the top few inches of compost have dried out. The best way to water a tradescantia to avoid water sitting on the leaves, is to bottom water it – place it in a saucer of water and wait for it to absorb as much as it needs. Reduce watering during the winter. Feed once a month with a general house plant fertiliser, during the growing season.

Plants will thrive in humid rooms such as a bathroom or kitchen, but in other rooms you can mist every few days to increase humidity. If you notice the tips of its leaves turning brown, a lack of humidity could be the problem.


It's easy to prune tradescantia, simply cut back stems to the length you want them to keep the plant compact. The best time to prune your house plant is during the growing season.

How to propagate tradescantia

Taking tradescantia cutting. Jason Ingram
Taking tradescantia cutting. Jason Ingram

Tradescantia can be propagated by taking stem cuttings. Cut off a 10cm piece of stem, just below a leaf joint. Snip off the lower leaves from the cutting and place it in a jar or glass of water. Place the jar in a warm position and once it has developed roots, it can be planted into a small container of potting compost.

Pests and diseases

Tradescantia is generally disease free but can be prone to pests such as spider mites, mealybugs, aphids and thrips.

Spider mites – look out for webs on your plants and remove any parts of the plant that are particularly affected. Raising the humidity around your plant will help as spider mites thrive in dry conditions.

Mealybugs – you might notice small woodlice-type pests or a fluffy white substance. Remove by hand or try biological control, and remove any fallen leaves that may harbour the pest. It may be necessary to throw out badly infested plants.

Aphids – remove sap-sucking greenfly and blackfly by hand or by spraying with water.

Thrips – also known as thunder flies. Raising the humidity will help to deter them but large infestations may be removed using a soap-based solution.

Advice on buying tradesantia

  • Tradescantia is also sold under the names silver inch plant and spiderwort. 
  • Always check plants for signs of pests, damage or disease before planting. Tradescantia can be prone to spider mites  

Where to buy tradescantia

Varieties of tradescantia to grow

Tradescantia albiflora. Spiderwort. Getty Images
Tradescantia albiflora. Spiderwort. Getty Images

Tradescantia zebrina (silver-inch plant) – silver-striped leaves on trailing stems make this plant an attractive option for a hanging basket or pot on a shelf.

Height x Spread: 60cm x 30cm

Tradescantia cerinthoides 'Nanouk' (Moses in the cradle) – this variety has green and cream leaves that have a rich purple underside, and white flowers

H x S: 40cm x 1m

Tradescantia pallida 'Purple Heart' (purple-heart spiderwort) – a vibrant purple-leaved variety with 3-petalled purple flowers during the summer.

H x S: 20cm x 25cm