Spiderwort Buds and Bloom



Despite carrying the name of Ohio, this smooth spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis Raf.) is one of the most elegant harbingers of spring in Texas. Found in prairies and meadows, at woodland edges, and along roadsides, it’s flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees, especially bumblebees. Halictid bees and syrphid flies also will visit, but the syrphids simply feed on stray bits of pollen.

The genus name honors John Tradescant (1570-1638) and his son John Tradescant (1608-1662), botanists and gardeners to Charles I of England.

The author name for the plant classification, ‘Raf.’ is for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840),  who traveled and lived in the United States for many years. He collected specimens, and published over 6,700 binomial names for plants. He applied to be botanist on the Lewis & Clark expedition, but Jefferson chose Lewis to act as botanist, thus saving the expense of another person.


Comments always are welcome.


35 thoughts on “Spiderwort Buds and Bloom

  1. I don’t know the reason for the specific name. It may be that the plant occurs in Ohio in great profusion, or as is sometimes the case that it was simply first described in that state. It is in any event a very attractive plant and Texas is the better for having it.

    1. There have been several names given to the plant over time. It’s our most widespread spiderwort, and can be found throughout the eastern half of the United States. Interestingly, it’s also listed for Ontario, so it’s a bit of loveliness that we share.

      I added some information to the description about the person responsible for the name, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. He settled in Ohio in 1815, so that no doubt explains ohiensis. He was regarded as quite an eccentric. He certainly was enthusiastic in his naming, and he developed a reputation for overdoing things. Asa Gray, botanist at Harvard University, once wrote, “A gradual deterioration will be observed in Rafinesque’s botanical writings from 1819 to 1830, when the passion for establishing new genera and species appears to have become a complete monomania.”

      1. The Wikipedia article about Asa Gray, “considered the most important American botanist of the 19th century,” notes that he “graduated and became an M.D. in February 1831, even though he was not yet 21 years of age, which was a requirement at the time.”

          1. Upon looking at the article I did remember it. I noticed the quotation in it from Gray about Rafinesque: “There can, we think, be but one opinion as to the consideration which is due to these new genera and species: They must be regarded as fictitious, and unworthy of the slightest notice.” It reminded me of Neltje Blanchan’s understated comment about the longstanding belief that sunflower flower heads track the sun: it “lacks only truth to make it fact.”

            As soon as I saw the name Rafinesque a cross-language play on words popped into my head: Rafinesque was not raffiné [‘refined’].

            1. And it seems he was only semi-raffish: while unconventional and slightly disreputable, I’m not sure it was in an attractive manner.

              I found Neltje Blanchan’s Wildflowers Worth Knowing as a Project Gutenberg e-book. I’d never heard of her, but her writing is delightful. I looked to see if she’d listed a spiderwort, and found one entry for the Commelinaceae: Virginia dayflower. I was amused by this:

              “Delightful Linnaeus, who dearly loved his little joke, himself confesses to have named the day-flowers after three brothers Commelyn, Dutch botanists, because two of them–commemorated in the two showy blue petals of the blossom–published their works; the third, lacking application and ambition, amounted to nothing, like the inconspicuous whitish third petal! Happily, Kaspar Commelyn died in 1731, before the joke was perpetrated in “Species Plantarum.”

              I wouldn’t want to be that third, white petal!

            2. I remember that passage by Neltje Blanchan about Linnaeus and the Commelyn brothers. Yes, she wrote delightfully. Too bad she’s largely forgotten today. I have a copy of the 1900 edition of Nature’s Garden, published by Doubleday (she was married to Frank Nelson Doubleday). My recollection is that Wild Flowers Worth Knowing was culled from the former.

            3. I found that book online, too. I was surprised to see so many first editions available through Abe’s Books, and quite affordable. I’ll read it online first, and then maybe order one for myself.

            4. I’d recommend you order the physically larger and heavier 1907 edition (10 x 7.5 inches, almost 3.75 lbs), which has a lot more illustrations in it than the 1900 edition that I initially ended up with before getting the other one.

            5. Done! I found a copy in very good condition in a Rochester, NY, rare book shop. Since it was reasonably priced, there seemed no reason to dally. Thanks for the tip.

    1. I didn’t realize you’d warmed up so quickly, but you certainly have. We’re still swinging back and forth in our usual way, but I saw blooming trees and my first damselfly of the season yesterday, so there’s no going back, even if we get a cold snap or two.

      1. I hope this isn’t a prelude of things to come this summer! I went through one summer of 45 days in a row over 95*F. People were dropping like flies!

    1. The first photo’s one of my favorites among all I’ve taken. The contrast between the buds and the smooth curve of the foreground leaf makes me smile, not to mention the fact that the various details kept all that green from being bland. Meeting the challenge of photographing a newly-emerged plant that was only about five inches tall was pretty satisfying, too: you know far more about that than I do!

  2. My spiderwort are awakening. Mostly I have the giant, but they’re passalongs, so I really am not positive. I think they’re quite photogenic, these particular flowers: colorful, with contrasting form. I guess I could say that about most plants though. :) Your photo is lovely.

    1. Do you have the full range of colors with your spiderwort? I was quite surprised when I first found them blooming pink. In fact, I think we may have talked about that, since I found pink ones growing near the field filled with groundsel that you helped me identify.

      Have you ever seen these flowers with a magenta edge around the leaves? Do you think that’s an effect of cold?

  3. What a beauty (despite its name, ha!) I’m thrilled you’re finding and photographing so many harbingers of spring for those of us stuck in northern climes, Linda — Thank you! We’ll have to return the favor when y’all are sweltering with heat and humidity, right??

    1. If I could melt your snow or raise your temperatures, I would, Debbie. But, since I can’t, at least I can let you see some little tokens of the season to come. I found some bedraggled iris blooming in a ditch this weekend, and even some pretty dewberry blossoms. It’s time to eat up the blueberries and dewberries in the freezer, so I’ll be ready for the new crop!

    1. Each flower last for only a day, but they’re prolific, and put on a lot of blooms over a fairly long season. I remember seeing them in early fall, at least — and some of the species can produce lavender and pink flowers, too.

    1. It never crossed my mind that spiderwort might produce white flowers, but why not? I’d be dying of happiness if those showed up in my yard; they’re really lovely, and need to be pampered, not pulled! I think the purple striations make them even prettier than pure white.

      As for envy — don’t we all? I envy your fall foliage and your ice and snow, and you envy early flowers, especially at winter’s end. In truth, Spring seems to be getting out of control. Things are happening faster than I remembered — budding trees, turtles appearing on logs, migrating flocks in the sky — but it’s my memory that’s at fault. When I look in my archives, mid-February to mid-March is real Spring, and we’d best get out and appreciate it.

    1. I hadn’t thought of its resemblance to the crocus, but you’re right. Even the shape is a bit similar. I’ve never caught one this early, with the buds just emerging. I really was taken with the plant’s design. It’s fun to see their buds packed as tightly as some plants’ seeds.

    1. I think they’re such a pretty flower. We have some of the “spring traditionals” I grew up with, like violets, but flowers like these do a good job of singing Spring, too.

    1. I don’t remember ever seeing those burgundy edges before. I think they might be a result of the up and down weather we’ve had, and were turned that color by cold. Of course, time will tell on that one. Since they bloom through a long season, I’ll have a chance to test that hypothesis. I’m glad you love the edges as much as I did!

    1. t’s always interesting to learn where some of these scientific names come from. It’s certainly a good way to become acquainted with the explorers and financial backers who were so much a part of those early centuries. Beyond that, hanging around with “plant people” has had an unexpected benefit — I’m finally learning how to pronounce some of the names. As for the buds — their structure is as appealing as the flower’s color.

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