756 Tradescantia zebrinaCommon Names: wandering Jew, purple wandering Jew, inch plant, cockroach grass, creeping Jenny Family: Commelinaceae (spiderwort Family)
Wandering Jew is a succulent-stemmed plant that creeps and sprawls and trails all over itself to make a dense groundcover. The pointed 3 in (7.6 cm) oval leaves that clasp the stem alternately have hairy upper surfaces with a silky iridescent sheen. They are an intense violet on the underside and striped with pale silvery turquoise and dark burgundy-tinged green on top. The round stems are a watery seafoam green with burgundy spots and blotches. The cultivar, 'Quadricolor' has green, white, and pink stripes on the upper sides of its leaves; it may in fact be a hybrid between T. zebrina and T. fluminensis.
Wandering Jew, Tradescantia zebrina, is native to Mexico. It has naturalized in moist, disturbed hardwood forests in south and central Florida.
CultureWandering Jew prefers rich organic soil and thrives on mulch. Even when grown under ideal conditions, potted plants get leggy as they age. When wandering Jew is grown as a groundcover, new branches cover the bare stems and fill in the planting, but container plants gradually become a mass of ugly straggling stems with little bunches of leaves at the tips. When you cut wandering Jew back, it does not promptly put out bushy fresh growth like most plants do. The bare stems just sit there and it takes a long time for new shoots to cover their nakedness. The solution is to grow new plants from cuttings, set them in fresh soil, and start another basket every once in awhile. Occasional light feeding encourages growth. Wandering Jew is seldom afflicted by pests or diseases, but is susceptible to an aphid-transmitted virus that causes stunting and malformed leaves. Light: Wandering Jew tolerates a wide range of light levels, but prefers bright shade or semi-shade. Moisture: This species needs moist soil. Plants grown in too dry and sunny a spot will have small leaves with a dull washed-out yellowish color. Wandering Jew tolerates some flooding, but will not grow vigorously in soggy ground. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8 - 11. Exposed hanging baskets will be burned back by a light frost, but a groundcover planting in a warm sheltered spot may come back after freezes into the teens if mulched heavily and kept damp on cold nights. In colder climates, cuttings can be overwintered in a jar of water on a sunny windowsill. Propagation: Wandering Jew rarely flowers or reproduces from seed. Cuttings root readily in soil, sand, or water so long as each piece of stem includes at least one node. If kept well watered for the first week or two, cuttings set directly into mulched organic soil will quickly establish a groundcover in a shady area of the garden. Wandering Jew is easy to transplant. To encourage it to spread as a groundcover, plant the rootball in good soil, then spread out the trailing stems and partially cover them with organic mulch.
In warm climates, wandering Jew is grown outdoors as a groundcover or a bedding plant, or to effect a tropical atmosphere. It may also be grown indoors or in the greenhouse as a hanging basket or container plant.
Wandering Jew is one of the most wonderful ornamental plants ever created! The sparkling silvery turquoise foliage is a beautiful color rarely encountered in landscape materials. Wandering Jew is a godsend for the indecisive gardener: Groundcover plantings can be established effortlessly, then ripped out and moved with ease when the landscape plan changes. A few pieces poked into the soil amongst container plants in the greenhouse will quickly flow into a colorful winter carpet. And you can make a gorgeous flower arrangement out of practically anything by sticking a couple of wandering Jew sprigs in with it. (Just put the vase up high when you aren't around or your cats will chew the tips off the leaves and scatter the remains on the carpet.)
Wandering Jew sap often causes a skin irritation in humans, and dogs kept in yards covered with wandering Jew have developed rashes. Tradescantia zebrina is nevertheless frequently recommended as a safe non-toxic plant for landscaping bird and reptile enclosures. This species does not appear to be aggressively invasive, but it will naturalize in warm moist forests. Therefore, trimmings should be discarded with care and plantings should not be allowed to grow out of bounds.
Linda Conway Duever 8/2/00; updated 3/10/04