The Tradescantia plant is commonly known as the Wandering Jew plant – an attractive vining plant whose distinctive leaves bear stripes of purple, white, green and silver. The botanical name for the tricolor wandering jew? Tradescantia zebrina!
The wandering jew, is a native of Mexico who earned its common name thanks to the plant’s ability to root easily, spread and thrive in a wide variety of conditions.
This plant comes from the spiderwort family (Commelinaceae) and is also known as Zebrina pendula or inch plant.
Another popular wandering jew variety is Tradescantia pallida – with deep purple leaves and goes by several common names like purple wandering jew, purple queen, and purple heart.
There are several other wandering jew varieties with green and white variegated leaves.
Tradescantia displays small 3-petaled pink, white or purple flowers.
In the “old days” before the advent of garden centers and nurseries carrying a wide variety of houseplants, housewives and gardeners shared cuttings of plants freely.
Cuttings of the wandering jew traveled broadly from home to home and proved itself adaptable and capable of thriving in almost any setting.
This reminded people of the wanderings of the Jews of biblical times, hence the nickname.
This easy-care plant grows indoors or out in a variety of settings.
In this article, we will provide best practices instructions on how to grow and care for Tradescantia pallida and provide some words of caution regarding another invasive species related to it, Tradescantia fluminensis. Read on to learn more.
Wandering Jew Care
The Wandering Jew does well in pots planted in a 60/40 peat moss and perlite potting mixture or with an all-purpose potting mix.
This indoor plant makes an exceptionally beautiful hanging basket plant.
Lighting can vary from medium indirect light to even full sun. Likewise, this hardy plant does well in room temperatures ranging from 55° degrees to 75° degrees Fahrenheit.
NOTE: Tradescantia Plants will achieve the most vibrant, bright colors in high, bright indirect light and at consistently warmer temperatures.
Like most houseplants, the Wandering Jew does not like soggy roots. Translation – Too much water leads to root rot.
Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings, then water deeply. If desired, use a general liquid houseplant fertilizer two times monthly.
Do not water directly into the crown of the plant. Doing so may encourage rotting of the stems and the roots.
These plants like humid conditions, so between watering, the leaf surface enjoys a frequent misting.
Continue misting through the winter, but cut back on watering. Generally speaking, watering once a week should work.
During the winter, reduce watering to two times monthly, and do not fertilize.
Pruning and grooming play an important role in caring for your Wandering Jew indoors.
These houseplants grow very quickly and send out long tendrils and stems on a regular ongoing basis. Keep these trimmed or pinched back at leaf nodes to encourage your new growth and fuller plants.
Propagation of this rambling plant is very easy.
Simply clip off the long stem cutting tips (3” length) during the spring and summer months and root them in potting soil or in water.
Growing Wandering Jew As An Outdoor Plant
Wandering Jew thrives in a temperate climate with fairly high humidity. Hardy in USDA Zones 9-11.
Tradescantia tricolor makes a good ground cover in spots receiving bright indirect light, such as around the base of tall trees which are shady areas.
They also serve as a great ornamental and basket plant.
Planting is simplicity itself. You can use four-inch plants in pots purchased from a nursery, or use stem cuttings from your houseplant for repotting or creating new starts.
You’ll get best results planting in rich, well-drained soil.
Be sure to cover the roots or sink your cuttings 3″ to 5″ inches into the soil. Keep a moist soil until the plant becomes established.
After this, weekly watering should suffice. Applying liquid fertilizer once a week will help to develop a healthy root system.
Keep plants pinched back and pruned to encourage them to grow bushy rather than spindly and trailing manner.
NOTE: Some people report skin irritation when coming in contact with the sap when handling cuttings.
More on the Wandering Jew Plant being Poisonous or Toxic.
Wandering Purple Jew plants will die back during cold winter months outdoors. Fear not, if you plant correctly and help establish a good root system they will reappear come springtime.
Three Best Ways To Root Tradescantia
- Poke the ends of cuttings into potting soil and keep the potting mix moist for a few weeks. During the rooting process, keep plants in partial shade. Once rooted, transfer them to pots and water as you would a mature plant.
- Simply lay cuttings on the surface of moist potting mix. Press the joint of the cutting into the soil so that it makes good contact. Roots will form at the joint. Once the plant becomes established, transfer it to its own pot.
- Place cuttings in a glass or bottle of water set on a sunny windowsill. Once roots emerge, transfer cuttings into pots. Keep the soil moist for a few weeks until the cuttings adjust and established themselves in the soil.
Replacing The Wandering Jew Sometimes Becomes Necessary
If your Wandering Jew begins looking shabby, loses foliage easily and gets too leggy, you may want simply toss it into the compost pile and replace it with one of its offspring. Alternately, you could try cutting the foliage back to the roots to see if it will regenerate.
Pests and diseases rarely attack Wandering Jew, but occasionally you’ll discover spider mites and aphids on the leaves and stems.
When this happens, simply cut back the affected areas and dispose of the cuttings in a sealed plastic bag.
Spray plants vigorously with water to knock off any errant pests. Depending on the infestation this should take care of the problem.
If it does not, turn to natural insecticides for killing any remaining aphids and prevent reinfestation.
NOTE: Don’t compost diseased or pest-infested plants.
Beware Of The Wandering Jew’s Invasive Cousin!
So far we’ve discussed the wandering jew – Tradescantia pallid. Another variety known as Tradescantia fluminensis is solid green and produces white flowers.
This wandering jew variety thrives in USDA zones 9 through 11. In fact, it does so well it can quickly become invasive. You must take great care to prevent it from taking over your entire yard.
In subtropical areas such as New Zealand and Australia and in the southern United States it has become a serious invasive plant problem.
Wandering Jew Propagation:
It propagates itself with wild abandon, and new starts grow readily from stem segments.
Inclement weather only encourages this because the segments can float and travel far and wide to establish themselves in new homes.
Eradicating Tradescantia fluminensis or even cutting it back by hand may encourage the plant to spread.
Very often people regret introducing this “Wandering Jew” in their gardens. They often end up having to use a strong herbicide to kill it off.
Should The Green Wandering Jew Be Avoided Entirely?
Tradescantia fluminensis can be a good garden addition, and it does well as a groundcover in Brazil and Argentina from whence it hails.
If you want Tradescantia fluminensis in your garden, look for the Innocence variety.
It’s more attractive and less invasive than the common varieties. It prefers damper and shadier areas and thrives in lower shade with moister soil.