734 Tradescantia pallidaCommon Names: purple heart, purple queen, purple-heart tradescantia Family: Commelinaceae (spiderwort Family)
Purple heart is a long-jointed sprawling groundcover plant with succulent stems and pointed leaves. The leaves are about 1 in (2.5.cm) wide and 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) long. The stems and upper surfaces of the leaves are a deep royal purple that becomes suffused with a faint dusty turquoise-gunmetal undertone as the foliage grows older. The undersides of the leaves are an even more vivid violet that shades towards pink where the petioles clasp and encircle the stem. Pale orchid-pink 0.5-0.75 in (1.3-1.9 cm) three-petaled flowers emerge from curving double bracts at the stem tips. Purple heart blooms constantly during warm weather, but the flowers are open only in the morning.
The wild form of Tradescantia pallida (also seen in the literature as Setcreasea pallida) grows in eastern Mexico from Tamaulipas to Yucatan.
CultureRich sandy soils seem to suit it best, but purple heart performs well on coral rock soils too. Light: Purple heart grows most vigorously and has the richest color in full sun, but it will tolerate some shade. Moisture: This is a good xeriscape plant. Although purple heart prefers ample moisture, it does well in dry soil and can get by for a long time without rain. It also puts up with occasional overwatering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Purple heart can tolerate a touch of frost, but it appreciates a blanket on cold winter nights. It will usually come back from the roots after a moderate freeze. Propagation: Like other Tradescantias, this species roots easily from cuttings if the stem nodes are firmly buried in sandy soil. It is very easy to transplant.
Purple heart is an excellent plant for bedding, rock gardens, and tropical effects. It also makes a good groundcover for difficult dry areas under eaves and awnings. It combines beautifully with fine-textured yellow-green asparagus fern for a low-maintenance urn or balcony planting.
There are lots of dark burgundyish-looking plants advertised as having purple foliage, but purple heart is really purple! Legendary Brazilian landscape designer Burle Marx used masses of it lavishly in his flamboyant tropical gardens.
Some of purple heart's close cousins are the green wandering Jew (T. fluminensis) and the purple wandering Jew (T. zebrina). Other members of this genus that you might know are the spiderworts (T. Andersoniana Group) and Moses-in-the-cradle (T. spathacea).
Juices from the leaves and stems may cause skin redness and irritation in some people, but this is not a common problem.
Linda Conway Duever 7/4/00; updated 3/10/04, 8/31/06