It’s been a while since I last profiled one of my houseplants. Sorry ’bout that. It’s definitely not because I ran out of houseplants to talk about. It’s just that I haven’t taken any nice photos of them until recently. So today, I bring you: Wandering Jew.

If you’re a bit put-off by the un-politically-correct common name, you can also just call it spiderwort. Or call it by the genus: Tradescantia. Or apparently some people (i.e. Wikipedia) also call it purple heart or purple queen, though I can’t say I’ve ever heard it called by those names.

a picture of a tradescantia pallida (wandering jew) houseplant

My Wandering Jew plant is one I’ve had for so long, and have refreshed by taking caking cuttings of so many times that I honestly can’t remember when I first started growing it. It’s not a plant that ages well, but because it is so easy to propagate you can essentialy keep “it” alive indefinitely.


Spiderworts need bright, but indirect, light for best growth. So what does “bright but indirect” mean, exactly? It means place it close to a (north or south) window, but not right on the window sill (especially of a west facing window). The bright, harsh, light of a southwestern aspect can lead to sunburn on the leaves (yep, plants have to worry about getting sunburned, too).

The bright light will keep the colors looking their best, and will also help keep the plant more compact. Spiderworts tend to get leggy and stretched out anyway, but sub-optimal light conditions only exacerbate the problem. Besides having bright light, frequent pinching (of the stems, at a node) will also keep the plant on the bushier side of life.

tradescantia plant with sunburned leaves

This plant had been situated in a southwestern facing window – and the intense direct light led to some of the leaves getting sunburned. The sunburned leaves are the pink ones that don’t have distinct markings anymore.

And, after you’ve pinched off some of the longer stems, you can go ahead and repot them for new plants to spread around your home or among your friends. If I’ve pinched off a really long stem, I like to cut it back until it’s only two or three inches long. Just tuck the end into a new pot of fresh potting mix, give it a water, and you’re good to go. These plants also will root at any point where a node is making contact with soil surface – which means if you’ve got a lot of plants grouped closely together, don’t be surprised to see the Wandering Jew traveling from pot to pot.

tradescantia plants

These three plants were all propagated from cuttings at the same time. The plants in the small terracotta pots have longer internodes (space between nodes and leaves) because they have been growing in dimmer light – and haven’t ever bee pinched back.

As far as watering goes, don’t let them dry all the way out. But, don’t let them stand in water – they don’t like wet feet any more than I do.


Have you grown Wandering Jew before? If you’re new to the world of propagating plants through cuttings, give it a try with this one and let me know how it turns out.