Growing this houseplant might cause flashbacks to the 1970s but it still merits its popularity as a houseplant or a groundcover. With trailing stems and colorful foliage, often boasting shades of purple and silver, this tropical plant is super easy to propagate and makes a wonderful pass-along plant for friends.
Tradescantia is a tough tropical plant. Depending on the species, tradescantias are typically purple and often variegated with silvers, greens, creams, even pinks, and occasionally gold. Many of the light-foliage varieties have dark purple undersides, which creates a dramatic effect. Though not the main reason they are grown, many varieties produce small flowers that grace the attractive foliage. Most often these three-petal blossoms are pink, purple, or white and typically at the stem tips. However, in some species these flowers are at the base of the leaves in oysterlike clusters, hence the common name of oyster plant.
Related: Fantastic Foliage Houseplants
Tradescantia Care Must-Knows
The Tradescantia genus contains some of the simplest plants to grow, requiring little maintenance. Provide houseplants with general-purpose potting mix and good drainage. Most tradescantias prefer growing in moist soil, but because of their fleshy nature, they can withstand an occasional drought. In warmer climates, they work beautifully as groundcover. Many of the trailing varieties form dense mats and will root everywhere the plants touch the ground.
Tradescantias are quite tolerant of different sun exposures. For the best coloring, plant in full sun, which generates the most blossoms possible. Inside, they tolerate just about any type of sunlight, but in shade they may become washed-out looking. Too little sun causes legginess, meaning the stems grow in a stretched out way with few leaves on them.
Though it may not be necessary, an occasional pruning and grooming of tradescantias will make for a more appealing plant. Some types tend to lose their lower leaves, creating unattractive naked stems. Luckily, this is easily remedied by pinching the growing tips to encourage branching. If old plants are large and seem beyond repair, start a new one from cuttings. This is easily done by cutting a small branch, removing the lower leaves (leave a few at the tip) and sticking the cutting in water or soil. When starting cuttings in water, once roots emerge, transplant to evenly moist soil.
Related: Houseplant Care Guide
More Varieties of Tradescantia
Tradescantia spathacea has striking foliage, green on top and purple-maroon beneath. Its small white flowers are cradled in leaf axils, giving it the other common names of Moses-in-the-cradle and oyster plant. It is also sometimes called Rhoeo spathacea.
Green wandering Jew
Tradescantia zebrina is a traditional easy-care houseplant with variegated olive and silver foliage with purple undersides. Stems root readily in water or where they come in contact with soil.
Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea' also goes by the name Setcreasea purpurea. It is sometimes grown as a groundcover outdoors. Indoors it needs bright light to bring out its attractive deep purple coloration. It can form small, short-lived, bright pink flowers.
Purple wandering Jew
Tradescantia zebrina is similar to its green cousin except its leaves are purple on both sides with silvery green stripes on the upper surface.
Striped inch plant
Tradescantia fluminensis is a fast-growing vine with creamy yellow striations on its leaves. It is also called white wandering Jew (Tradescantia albiflora).
'Tricolor' boat lily
Tradescantia spathacea 'Tricolor' is a striking white, magenta, and green variegated form of boat lily. It has a finer texture and trails more readily.