A Texas native, spiderwort (Tradescantia spp.) honors both John Tradescant the Elder (1570-1638) and his son, also named John. Both served as Keeper of his Master’s Gardens, Vines, and Silkworms at Oatlands Palace, an estate occupied by Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I of England. One species, Tradescantia virginiana, recalls John the Younger’s travels to Virginia in the 1630s, and the horticultural specimens he brought back to England.
Some say the plant’s common name comes from its angular leaves and stems, which vaguely resemble spider legs, but the Missouri Botanical Garden notes that when spiderwort stems are cut, “a viscous stem secretion is released which becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening, like a spider’s web.”
Because Tradescant the Elder had no sense of smell, he tended to favor visually interesting trees and flowers; I suspect he would have enjoyed the white spiderworts I discovered among a field of purple and blue in Dickinson, Texas, on March 14. I’ll occasionally find rose-colored spiderwort flowers, but these were the first white that I’d seen.
While this white flower is a natural variant, a cultivar known as T. ohiensis ‘Alba’ exists. It’s a pretty combination of white and lavender; gardeners who enjoy spiderworts, or white flowers, or unusual plants, might want to give it a try.