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Plants of the Spiderwort Family

      If you have a succulent, creeping houseplant with purple leaves and parallel veins, then you have a member of the Spiderwort family, often called the wandering jew. Members of this family have alternate, sharply folded leaves, and the base of each leaf wraps around the stem. These are succulent plants with mucilaginous juice.

      Spiderworts have nearly regular, bisexual flowers with 3 sepals and 3 petals, usually with 2 broad petals and the third reduced in size. The petals range from blue to violet, pink, white or rose-colored, but never yellow. The petals sometimes have a sparkly appearance, almost as if they were coated with sugar crystals. There are 6 stamens, and the filaments (stamen stems) are often covered with bright hairs. The ovary is positioned superior and consists of 3 (rarely 2) united carpels (syncarpous) with the partition walls present, forming an equal number of chambers. It matures as a capsule with a few seeds per chamber. The spiderworts might be mistaken for lilies, but most lilies have sepals and petals of approximately equal size and color, while the Spiderworts have smaller, usually green sepals.

      Worldwide, there are about 40 genera and 600 species, mostly in the tropics. Six genera are native to North America. Several others are cultivated. A number of plants in this family are called "wandering jew" and are grown as houseplants.

Key Words: Succulent, mucilaginous monocot plants with three nearly equal-sized petals.

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Tradescantia occidentalis. Spiderwort. Chatfield State Park, Colorado.

Tradescantia occidentalis. Spiderwort. Chatfield State Park, Colorado.

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