Tradescantia is one of the most striking trailing plants you can grow as a houseplant, instantly recognizable for its striped leaves, which are usually bicolored.
It also helps that this plant is incredibly easy to grow and look after. The biggest problem you’ll have is the plant ‘wandering’ across your windowsill or counter, but it’s very easy to take cuttings of these gorgeous plants.
Interested in growing your own? Here’s what you need to know.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About the Wandering Dude Plant
Tradescantia is a genus of wildflowers, with nearly 90 different species to choose from. There are many common names for this plant, including inchplant, spiderwort, flowering inch plant, and oyster-plant.
The common name, wandering Jew, is rarely used these days, as it’s antisemitic, so it has been replaced with wandering dude.
Depending on the type of tradescantia you go for, they can reach between one and two feet tall, and while most grown as houseplants trail, you can get climbing species too.
Quite a few types of tradescantia also produce stunning flowers. The type dictates the color of the bloom, which is usually a vivid blue, but these flowers can also be found in purple, white, or pink.
These flowers don’t typically last for more than a day, but they are still a sight to see, only adding to the beauty of the foliage.
Be careful if you plan on growing tradescantia outside. Its ability to adapt well to different conditions and its fast growth habit has meant that it’s become an invasive species in more than one part of the world, threatening the native plants.
A Note on Toxicity
It’s worth noting that tradescantia is a danger to pets and humans. These plants are capable of provoking an allergic reaction, bringing out a nasty, itchy rash, so bear this in mind.
Keep any tradescantia well out of reach of pets and children, but with the plant’s wandering habit, this may be harder than it sounds, as it can secretly trail behind its pot without you noticing!
It’s also worth wearing gloves if you’re planning to take cuttings, as the sap can be an irritant.
Varieties of Wandering Dude Plants You Should Grow At Least Once
There are many types of tradescantia to choose from. Here is just a snapshot of some of the most beautiful types to get you started.
Tradescantia albiflora ‘Nanouk’
One of the most commonly-grown tradescantia types available is Tradescantia albiflora, ‘Nanouk’, featuring deep green leaves with white and pink stripes, and tinges of deep pink.
It’s the perfect variety if you can’t make your mind up between tradescantia types producing white and green leaves, purple and green, or pink and green, as ‘Nanouk’ features all of these colors.
Tradescantia mundula ‘Laekenensis Rainbow’
Also known as Tradescantia tricolor, this tradescantia is another very popular type to go for. It’s one of the easiest types to care for, featuring variegated leaves in pink, green, and cream.
Depending on the light levels you grow it in, some leaves can look nearly wholly pink or cream, while other leaves on the same plant can be a solid, deep green.
Giving your tradescantia enough light will promise a lot of bright variegation, while also keeping the plant healthy.
Be careful of giving this plant too much light, however. If the plant is under too much stress from all the light, the colors will turn pale and the whole plant will look washed out.
To prevent the colors from fading, keep it away from west or south-facing windows in the summer, which get a lot of fierce sunlight.
Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart’
Tradescantia pallida, or the purple heart tradescantia is one of the most striking varieties you can grow.
The purple heart tradescantia will really start to show off in the brightest light possible, where its deep purple and dark green leaves really come into their own.
It helps that this is one of the most drought-resistant plants in the genus, as well as withstanding darker places, making it perfect as a houseplant.
It also helps that this tradescantia also produces some of the most beautiful light purple flowers around, contrasting well against the dark foliage.
Tradescantia sillamontana ‘White Velvet’
Also known as white gossamer, if you prefer your plants to have a layer of fine down covering the leaves, this is the tradescantia for you.
What the foliage of a Tradescantia sillamontana lacks in bicolor, it makes up for in texture, with its silvery white down covering the stems and the deep green foliage.
If this wasn’t enough, ‘White Velvet’ produces bright pink flowers at the end of each stem.
Instantly recognizable for its silvery, green and purple foliage, this is another popular type of tradescantia.
Take a look at the leaves in person, and you’ll notice that they have a glittery sheen to them, not unlike the striking leaves of a jewel orchid.
You may notice that as the plant gets older, the foliage will get further apart, growing leggy. To fix this, propagate the plant and pop rooted cuttings into the same container to renew its growth.
How to Make Sure Your Tradescantia Thrives
While tradescantia plants are easy to look after, there are some things that you can do to make sure you get the best out of your trailing beauty.
Here’s what you need to know.
Sunlight and Soil
Make sure to keep your wandering dude plant in a bright position which gets very little direct sunlight. This will help the beautiful colors in the leaves stay bright without becoming washed out.
Make sure you rotate your plant occasionally in order to keep the growth balanced on all sides, and stop the plant from becoming leggy.
The soil needs to be well-draining above all else. A standard houseplant compost mix will do, but you can add a little grit into the mix to help improve the drainage.
When to Water a Tradescantia
Tradescantia plants like a lot of water, although some are more drought tolerant than others. This is why you need to give the plant well-draining soil, as this goes a long way in preventing root rot.
Water your tradescantia when the top few inches of the soil has dried out, and water it deeply to encourage stronger roots. If you think you may be overwatering your tradescantia, put a finger into the drainage hole from the bottom. If it’s wet, don’t water it!
Should You Fertilize a Tradescantia?
Feeding a tradescantia isn’t an absolute must when it comes to keeping your plant healthy, unlike an orchid, for example.
However, tradescantia plants do benefit from some fertilizer in the spring and summer months, using a balanced houseplant feed once a month. Don’t feed your plant during the autumn and winter months, as it needs to rest.
Humidity and Temperature Needs
The inchplant or tradescantia like warm temperatures, and plenty of air circulation around the plant.
You don’t need to provide a tradescantia with a lot of humidity, but some humidity will help boost the plant’s growth. Misting it daily in the morning will help, but make sure you wipe the leaves with a damp cloth occasionally to keep the foliage free of dust.
It’s also important to keep the plant away from sources of heat and drafts.
How Do You Propagate Tradescantia?
The best way to propagate any tradescantia is through stem cuttings. If the plant starts getting too long, trim the ends and treat these off cuts as cuttings. Place them into damp compost in a warm, bright position.
You can also put the cuttings straight back into the original container into the soil, and this will help renew the plant’s growth.
If the plant hasn’t gotten enough light lately, and you’ve noticed the growth has gotten leggier, you can pinch out any new growth. This will encourage the plant to fill out a little more.
Every two years or so, you’ll need to repot your tradescantia, especially if you’ve been putting cuttings into the original container, as it will soon get overcrowded.
Choose a container that’s one size up from the original, and fill around the plant with fresh compost. Water it well, but hold off on feeding the plant until the roots have settled into their new home, which should take around two weeks or so.
Tradescantia: Common Problems to Watch Out For
Tradescantia plants are robust plants which are hard to kill, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their fair share of problems.
The most common pests you might encounter are aphids, fungus gnats, and mealybugs.
Keeping your plant in the right growing conditions will halt most pests and diseases before they have a chance to start, but occasionally you may get houseplant compost which is contaminated.
To prevent pests, use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the leaves and undersides of the leaves once a week, which is a good way to keep your eye on the foliage.
As a last resort, you can use a houseplant bug killer spray, but bear in mind that it can do more harm than good.
When it comes to disease, keeping a good amount of air circulation around the plant will stop any fungal diseases from taking hold, and keeping your plant well-watered without drowning it will stop root rot.
As a houseplant grown mostly for its foliage, tradescantia is one of the easiest types to look after, making it a good trailing plant to start with (if you’d prefer a low-growing houseplant that remains upright, you might try fittonia. See also How To Grow A Nerve Plant).
It’s a very forgiving plant, and it’s easy to recognize the signs of distress in this plant than others, and because it’s so easy to propagate, you can also give one as a gift.