Pink. Purple. Red. Green. White. Yellow. Tradescantia varieties cover the entire spectrum of the rainbow-you'll even find blue among the flowers of some species. Tradescantia, commonly known as Wandering Jew, are some of the most popular and commonly grown houseplants in the world. A movement is gaining traction to change or stop the use of that common name, due to its sensitive connotations, so we refer to it here by its scientific name. I'm also a firm believer in trying to learn and use the botanical names for plants. It helps avoid the confusion that can arise over common names shared by different plants, among other benefits. But that's a discussion for another day!
This post aims to cover care for all of the varieties we carry, including some that are currently not for sale (see the end for a complete list of what's in our collection). With hundreds of species and cultivars in the world, it's nearly impossible to cover them all, but I'll do my best to keep this updated to reflect any that we have in our collection.
This is a work in progress-and, I've come to realize, always will be! Some information may not be complete, so check back periodically to see if it's been updated! Thank you for your patience and understanding! ~Diana
The photo above shows the difference between four of the most popular tradescantia varieties we carry - top is Callisia repens Bianca, bottom row from left is Lilac, Lavender, and Rainbow. I hope this photo and the others included in this guide help you identify which variety you have!
Some cultivars or species require slightly different care than others, but for the most part, tradescantia are a very easy plant to grow, either as houseplants or outdoors in the summer or in warmer climates. As long as they're getting plenty of very bright light, and regular watering (without letting them sit in wet soil for too long), they'll reward you with gorgeous foliage and infrequent flowers that are as much a surprise as they are a delight. The following plants are only hardy outside in zones 9-11, so be sure to protect them from frost and cold temperatures. Some may also be considered invasive outside in certain areas, so please plant responsibly! Indoors, however, they'll all bring you beauty and joy no matter what zone you live in.
An example of one of our past mystery boxes rooting in water.
As your plant ages, you may find, with some species, that they become "leggy" or look less than stellar. In that case, your best bet is to start fresh with cuttings. Tradescantia root very easily in water or soil, and a handful of cuttings will quickly grow to fill in a 4" pot. Clip a stem that has 2-3 leaf sections, stick it into moist soil in a small planter, or into a small jar of water, and give it bright light, and it should root in a matter of days. Some species take a little longer to root, and care should be taken not to overwater the cuttings while they're getting established. When soil rooting plants, allowing the soil to get mostly dry between watering will help to encourage root growth, but don't let it get totally dry! If you choose to root your tradescantia in water, you can go ahead and plant the cuttings when the roots are about an inch long. Your goal is just to start the rooting process, so the plant has a small headstart when it's planted into soil.
There's no real right or wrong way to get your cuttings rooted, so choose the method that suits you best - or try both ways, with the same variety, to see what roots faster, and get your kids or grandkids involved! Propagation experiments are always a great learning experience!
Roots forming after one night in water.
If you've purchased our mystery tradescantia box, your cuttings may arrive slightly wilted or distressed, but don't worry! Trim the cut end just a little, so it's a fresh cut, and let them sit in water overnight. You'll be amazed at the transformation of these extremely hardy plants! Some varieties may arrive fairly large and ready to be cut back so they can fill in, giving you extra propagation material. Win!
Zebrina gets its name from its striped leaves, and this type is the most common tradescantia you'll find in cultivation. While there are a wide range of cultivars, nearly all require the same basic care. They can be grown in full, direct outdoor sun (except perhaps in the most southern states), if they're given enough regular watering during prolonged periods of heat, and will perfom best with at least 8 hours of direct sun. You'll see spectacular color and growth in those conditions-varieties like Red Gem and Silver Plus will show the most color in full sun. Generally speaking, they prefer south or west exposure when kept indoors, and should be watered when the soil is almost dry. Err on the side of underwatering, since they are semi-succulent and drought-tolerant. In winter, decrease watering slightly. If you've bought a huge, full hanging basket for the summer and want to bring it indoors for the winter, be sure to cut it back by at least half, and begin adjusting the plant to lower light as the days get shorter-gradually move your plant from full sun to filtered light over the course of a few weeks in early fall, until the light levels are close to what it will get inside. Your plant will experience less shock that way, and will grow better for you through the winter. Many gardeners choose to simply take cuttings in the fall, and start new baskets for the following year, since these plants are so easy to grow. The following cultivars are all ones we have, that you may have gotten in one of our cutting or plug boxes. If any variety needs additional care, it's listed under the name.
Root cuttings in moist soil or water as described above, or in our previous propagaion blog post.
~T. zebrina 'Burgundy'
Burgundy is a somewhat variable plant, and shows different colors in different lighting and at different stages of growth. It can closely resemble Red Gem, or look like the photo below, with smaller leaves and more pronounced stripes.
~T. zebrina 'Silver Plus'
One of the most common zebrinas, this beautiful cultivar features deep purple tips that age to silvery green over time. This is an easy one, and shouldn't give you too much trouble. Cuttings root very easily in soil, and can even be laid on top of soil and allowed to root themselves.
We left a tray of cuttings of this variety sitting on a bench in the greenhouse from the end of November until the following February, when we finally took pity on them and got them planted. Nearly every single one rooted, even after three months as cuttings! It's a very tough plant!
~T. zebrina 'Red Gem'
Red Gem is a tricky one - when sun stressed, it looks like the photo below, with ruby red leaves and faint stripes. When it's in ideal conditions, getting bright filtered light and regular water only when the soil is dry, it's a pretty deep reddish burgundy. In some lighting, Red Gem and Silver Plus can also look similar.
It's always a good idea to pay careful attention to the tags on your cuttings when you get them from us! We keep all the varieties strictly separated and marked, so they should all have the correct names on them to help cut through any confusion, but if you're unsure, feel free to send us a message!
~T. zebrina Multi-Color Discolor
This variety is one of the most colorful, and also one of the few zebrina types that might prefer just slightly less than full, direct sun. The white variegation can burn easily in direct sunlight, but the plant does best with as much sun as possible. It's often confused with Quadricolor, but this variety isn't quite as stable. It also has more muddied colors, and is a bit less vibrant and shimmery.
~T. zebrina Quadricolor
Quadricolor is a fun plant that displays a wide range of colors. You'll notice as it grows that the pink and white stripes and variegation will appear from seemingly "reverted" stems that look very much like Silver Plus. In the winter it's less colorful (although it can still produce beautiful variegation), and as the days get longer, the light gets better, and the plant matures, it develops stripes of color among the silver and purple. New offshoots will also show color; quadricolor's variegation is carried in it's stems, not it's leaves, and is considered stable. There is no 'reverted' quadricolor; every piece can, and will, produce variegation. Starting out with highly variegated pieces will result in a weak plant; your best bet is to keep the fully white or pink portions to a minimum, to allow the plant the most energy to work with for future growth.
From time to time we send seemingly "reverted" plugs of Quadricolor with our mystery boxes, and we hope that this helps answer any questions you may have. We assure you, your Quadricolor wasn't mislabeled! Allow your young plant time to grow, and you'll understand the reason this cultivar is so misunderstood.
I haven't been able to get a good photo yet that shows the depth and shimmer on the leaves of Quadricolor, but I'm working on it!
Fluminensis species and cultivars feature slightly thinner leaves and stems than their zebrina cousins, and the cultivars we carry all prefer very bright light, but not direct full outdoor sun, which can burn their lighter parts. These also root very quickly and easily in water or soil.
This photo shows the difference between Variegata (left), Aureovariegata (top right), and Albiflora Albovittata (bottom right), all similar and somewhat easily confused-at least until all three plants are placed together!
~T. fluminensis 'Aureovariegata' (Yellow Zebra)
The bright yellow variegation on this cultivar give it the ability to handle a little more light than its cousin, variegata, or any of the other light-variegated varieties. You'll still want to protect it from direct, full sun, but it will perfom best in extremely bright light inside or filtered light outside.
~T. fluminesis Variegata (white and green)
Variegata is a somewhat variable plant as well, and can range in shades from white, to cream, to pale lemony white. Fully white parts won't last long, as they lack the ability to produce energy of their own. If your variegata arrives with some crispy leaves, especially if they're fully white, simply remove them and allow new growth to emerge. Fully green parts should be removed at soil level so they don't take over the plant. Several other varieties can be treated this way, if they have lighter parts or tend to send out reverted shoots. This encourages variegation and keeps your plant looking its best.
~T. fluminensis 'Lavender'
Lavender tends to send out reverted green stems, especially when kept in low light, so be sure to provide plenty of very bright filtered light indoors. It's sometimes called Lilac, but the correct name for this cultivar is Lavender. Like other fluminensis types, it prefers not to dry out for too long between watering. Inconsistent watering (too little, then too much, then too little, etc) can lead to browning edges or damaged leaves so try to keep it regularly watered when the soil is just about dry. Having said that, if you do forget to water for a few weeks, and find your fluminensis (or pretty much any tradescantia!) has crispy, dry leaves, simply give it a good soak and let it hydrate. Damaged leaves may never recover, but you'll almost definitely get new growth once it gets a good drink!
~T. mundula Laekenensis Rainbow/Tricolor
This is easily our most popular and most requested variety, and it's easy to see why. The delicate colors on the dainty leaves combined with its ease of care make this an extremely sought-after houseplant for beginners and experienced collectors alike. Be sure to keep fully pink or fully green stems pinched back to promote variegation. Green stems, while pretty in their own right, grow faster than the vareigated parts, and will quickly take over the plant. Bright light helps this cultivar keep its pretty colors but too much sun will cause pale and washed out leaves (if kept outdoors, or in extremely bright south or west windows). If you notice signs of sun stress, move the plant slightly away from the light source until it seems happier.
~T. albiflora albovitatta
This stunning tradescantia features pale green leaves striped with white, and tends to "creep" rather than trail, if allowed. It's strong rooting habit keeps it close to it's growing medium when possible, making it ideal for coco-lined wire baskets. It's very drought-tolerant, and can be allowed to dry out between watering, but looks best with fairly regular water. Bright, indirect light, but not full outdoor sun, is the ideal light for this one. I keep mine in eastern light-in the summer, it hangs from my shaded deck, where it gets only a few hours of morning sun, and very little water. In the winter, it lives in an east/south corner with the rest of my indoor jungle, and is one of the easiest plants in my collection.
While sometimes confused with t. fluminensis variegata, the leaves on this species are thicker and longer, the stems are thicker, it's more apt to send out air roots (as you can see on the photo below), and the leaves have a very pretty shimmer in sunlight that fluminensis lacks. They're very different plants, once you get to know them!
~T. chrysophylla 'Baby Bunny Bellies'
Leaves on this variety are soft and fuzzy, with green tops and purple undersides. It's extremely drought-tolerant and easily overwatered, so be sure to allow the soil to dry completely between watering. It's a fairly fast grower, and makes an excellent companion for variegated varieties. Pairing solid plants with variegated helps highlight the beauties of both plants at once, and helps save valuable space on your plant shelf!
~T. Sillamontana Matuda (White Velvet)
This very furry plant grows a little differently than zebrinas or fluminensis. Its thick, sturdy stems help hold it upright a bit longer, but it does trail nicely as it grows. It's another extremely drought-tolerant variety, and can withstand very prolonged periods without water. Cuttings root easily in soil, and we generally ship this one as dry as possible to avoid issues in transit. The cobwebby hairs on the leaves give it a velvety feel, and the hot pink flowers are the perfect finishing touch.
~T. blossfeldiana (cerinthoides) variegata (smooth form) - 'Lilac'
Lilac can be a tricky plant. It's very prone to water damage on its leaves, so you'll want to try to avoid splashing them when you water. It needs very bright light to stay compact, but burns easily in hot sunlight, especially if water droplets sit on the delicate, fleshy leaves. It's also prone to stem rot if the soil is wet for too long. This is a very easy plant to love to death, as many sad gardeners can attest! Your best bet with this one is to find a pretty ceramic planter that's wide and shallow, to accommodate its spreading, creeping growth habit, set it in a sunny east window, and forget about it. Water it when the soil is dry to help avoid stem and root rot, and pinch it to promote fullness. Cuttings should be stuck back into the pot to root.
~T. blossfeldiana (cerinthoides) variegata - 'Pink Furry'
This tradescantia is new for us, but fast becoming a favorite. It's more pink than its cousin Lilac, with thick fuzzy leaves and gorgeous color. It, too, is prone to some spotting on the leaves if watered in sunlight, but is overall a bit easier to grow than Lilac. Treat it the same, and water only when dry. Be sure to provide plenty of very bright light to retain the lovely colors, but not full outdoor sun, which will burn the lighter parts.
~T. blossfeldiana 'Red Hill'
~T. pallida 'Pale Puma'
'Pale Puma' looks best when grown in full outdoor sun, which gives it the compact, purple appearance shown in my plant in this photo. Lower light will cause it to be light green, but still a pretty plant! In winter or year-round indoors, be sure to provide supplemental lighting if your plant isn't as colorful as you'd like it to be. I had this one growing in full, all day sun, getting very little water except what nature provided, and it performed spectacularly in our Midwest summer. Brought indoors for the winter, the color faded, but once it was brought back outside the following spring, the deep purple quickly returned. You can see the difference between indoor winter growth and outdoor summer growth in the space between the leaves toward the base of the stems - this plant was started from cuttings in late fall, and is about a year old in this photo.
~T. pallida ‘Purple Heart’
Like Pale Puma, this plant looks its best when grown in as much sunlight as possible. It's very drought-tolerant, and more forgiving of lower light levels, making this one of the more commonly grown tradescantia.
~T. pallida ‘Variegated Purple Heart’, 'Pink Stripes'
Pink Stripes has a tendency to revert to solid color growth, especially in less than full outdoor sun, so be sure to give this incredibly attractive cultivar as much light as possible. Like other pallida varieties, it's drought-tolerant and should be watered when the soil is dry.
~T. andersonia 'Blushing Bride'
This has to be the strangest of all the tradescantia we carry. For most of the year, Blushing Bride stays green, featuring sturdy, upright stems and a more bushy habit, with large spaces between the leaves. Once cooler temperatures begin in the fall, the virus that gives this plant its color becomes active, causing gorgeous blushes of pink and white to emerge from fall until spring.
~Tinantia pringlei (Mexican Speckled)
We're still learning this one. It grows very very differently than most others, and isn't as easy to start from cuttings. Our current project is to start it from seed, collected from our own plants. Wish us luck!!
Delicate stems support green leaves spotted with purple, and you'll notice that this variety is much more free-flowering than others. As you can see, it's not technically a tradescantia, but it is in the family, and the flowers show the connection.
~Cyanotis somaliensis (kitten ears)
This succulent cousin of tradescantia has thick, stubby, hairy leaves that will vary in color from green to brown, depending on the plant's lighting conditons and water intake. In very hot, bright, dry conditions it will have thinner, darker leaves that appear more hairy, while in very bright light with regular watering when the soil is totally dry, it will be more green. It's very forgiving and does better when allowed to stay dry. Bright bluish-purple flowers appear rarely, but are a joy to behold when they do!
~Cyanotis beddomei/kewensis (teddy bear vine)
This succulent cousin of tradescantia has soft, fuzzy green leaves with brown undersides and stems, and is a fairly slow grower. It sends out runners from a central stem, somewhat similar to T. spathacea, which will root in and form their own plants in time. It's fairly small, but can grow to become a beautifully full hanging basket given time and proper care. The one you see below is in a 4" terra cotta pot, and will live happily there for several years before needing to be repotted. The terra cotta helps dry it out between watering, and it's easy to bottom water with that kind of pot. Teddy bear vines form pretty dense masses of stems, and it can be hard to get water to the soil without drowning the leaves, so I prefer to bottom water mine at home.
~Callisia gentlei var. elegans
~Callisia Repens 'Bianca'
This is another of our most popular varieties. It needs pretty bright light (but not full direct outdoor summer sun) to stay compact and colorful, but can burn if it’s too bright. That’s not generally a problem inside, though! The more light they get, the better they perform. They’re semi-succulent so overwatering can be an issue, but they’re pretty resilient so as long as they’re not constantly sitting in wet soil they should be fine. As with Rainbow, you'll want to keep fully green or fully pink stems to a minimum, so they don't take over the plant.
I have started them very easily at home in a terrarium-like environment-you can pot the cuttings into moist soil, set them on a tray in a sunny spot, and turn over a glass bowl or something similar and cover the pot. Let it breathe so water isn’t sitting on the leaves, but keep it humid in the chamber, and they root almost overnight. Take the cover off completely after a few days of good roots, usually about a week. Ventilation is super important though!!!!!!! You do NOT want the leaves to be wet, but it’s ok if there’s condensation on the glass. While it's getting established, be sure to remove the cover for a few minutes every day to allow it to breathe.
~Callisia repens 'Golden'
Golden is a beautiful yellow version of callisia repens, and the contrast of the bright yelllow tops of the leaves compared to the coppery bronze underneath make this a truly striking plant. It requires the same care as Bianca or Pink Panther - a relatively humid environment (but not extremely so), very bright light (filtered sun outdoors, or the highest amount of light possible indoors), and regular watering when the soil is fully dry. Treat it like a succulent groundcover, and it will grow beautifully for years!
~Callisia repens 'Pink Panther'
~T. spathacea 'Tricolor' (Rhoeo spathacea) ('Moses In the Cradle')
~T. spathacea 'Sitara's Gold'
I hope you found this information helpful! If you notice a mistake, feel like I've left an important care tip out, or would just like to let me know your thoughts about this blog, please feel free to contact me-if there's one thing I know, it's that I don't know everything, and no matter how much you know, there's always something new to learn!
Cyanotis somaliensis (Kitten Ears)
Cyanotis beddomei/kewensis (Teddy Bear Vine)
Callisia congesta variegata 'Variegated Dragon's Tail' (images coming soon! very new addition!)
Callisia gentlei var. elegans
Callisia repens 'Bianca' aka 'Pink Lady'
Callisia repens 'Golden'
Callisia repens 'Pink Panther'
T. spathacea 'Tricolor' (Roheo spathacea) ('Moses In the Cradle')
T. spathacea (Rhoeo spathacea) 'Sitara's Gold'
T. zebrina 'Burgundy'
T. zebrina 'Multi-Color Discolor'
T. zebrina 'Quadricolor'
T. zebrina 'Red Gem'
T. zebrina 'Silver Plus'
T. fluminensis aureovariegata 'Yellow Zebra'
T. fluminensis 'Lavender'
T. fluminesis variegata (white and green)
T. mundula variegata 'Laekenensis Rainbow', 'Tricolor'
T. chrysophylla 'Baby Bunny Bellies'
T. Sillamontana matuda 'White Fuzz', 'White Velvet'
T. Sillamontana matuda variegata
T. Blossfeldiana 'Red Hill'
T. blossfeldiana variegata (smooth form) 'Lilac', 'Bubblegum', 'Nanouk'
T. blossfeldiana variegata (fuzzy form) ‘Pink Furry’
T. pallida 'Pale Puma'
T. pallida ‘Purple Heart’
T. pallida variegata ‘Variegated Purple Heart’ aka 'Pink Stripes'
T. albiflora albovitatta
T. andersonia 'Blushing Bride'
Tinantia pringlei (Mexican Speckled)
Gibasis pellucida - Tahitian Bridal Veil
Not all varieties are currently available, but all are in production!
Image credit for all photos: Diana Petros
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