TRADESCANTIAS are easy-to-grow, small-leaved, trailing plants with many popular names including inch plant and wandering Jew. The trailing stems, which grow more than a foot long, have prominent nodes and change direction slightly at each node. Leaves are generally pointed-elliptic in shape and stalkless. In the spring and summer, clusters of small, three-petaled, white, white-and-pink, or pink flowers, appear at the ends of the trailing stems. Individual blooms last just one day. All tradescantias tend to lose their lower leaves with age and should be propagated regularly.
albiflora, a white-flowered, plain green, shiny-leaved tradescantia, is a familiar house plant only in several variegated forms. Among them are 'Albovittata' (giant white inch plant), with white stripes on its green leaves; . 'Aurea,' whose leaves are almost entirely yellow; and 'Tricolor,' with leaves striped in both white and light purple. Leaves of all these are 2-2 ½ inches long, and the plants bloom infrequently.
blossfeldiana (flowering inch plant) has fleshy leaves up to 4 inches long; they are dark olive green with deep purple undersides. The ^-inch flowers that appear in spring are pink in the upper half, white in the lower. Fine whitish hair covers the flowers, stems, and leaves. One form, 'Variegata,' has leaves that may begreen, wholly cream-colored, or striped half green and half cream—all on a single plant. When grown in bright light, the cream sections of this form take on a strong pink hue.
In propagating the variegated form it is essential to use shoots carrying leaves with at least a third of green coloring in them. The stems bearing all-cream leaves will not root. T. fluminensis (wandering Jew) is similar to T. albiflora, but its leaves, which are up to 2 inches long and have deep purple undersides, are more pointed. White-striped and cream-striped forms are available; the most popular of these is 'Variegata.' 'Quicksilver' is an extremely fast-growing, robust variety, which does not lose its lower leaves as easily as some of the other tradescantias do; it has evenly striped green-and-white, 3-inch-long leaves (without purple undersides), and the starlike white flowers are carried in larger clusters than in the other forms. T. navicularis (chain plant) is a low-and slow-growing creeper, which has closely packed, i-inch-long, fleshy, coppery green, triangular leaves. Each leaf has a crease along the central vein, short hairs along the edges, and purple dots on the underside. The flowers are a bright pink.
T. sillamontana (white velvet) has flattened ranks of extended-oval leaves that are 2 ½ inches long and colored peppermint green. The leaves and stems are all heavily felted with long, white, woolly hair; and the magenta-pink flowers also contrast strongly with the leaf coloring.
LightTradescantias need bright light, with some direct sunlight every day. Given insufficient light they will lose much of their decorative leaf coloring. T. sillamontana in particular must have direct strong light, or its stems will elongate unnaturally.
Temperature Do not subject these plants to temperatures below 50°F; they grow best in humid warmth. An ideal temperature range throughout the year is 70°-75°.
Watering Water actively growing tradescantias plentifully, as much as necessary to keep the potting mixture thoroughly moist. At other times make the potting mixture barely moist throughout, allowing the top two-thirds of the mixture to dry out before watering again. But water T. navkularis and T. sillamontana only sparingly at all times.
Feeding Apply standard liquid fertilizer once every two weeks from early spring to late fall.
Potting and repotting A soil-based potting mixture is best for most tradescantias, but T. navi-cularis and T. sillamontana should have up to a one-third portion of coarse sand or perlite added to the mixture for better drainage. A 4- to 6-inch pot is the largest size needed for any of the stronger-growing plants and a 3-inch half-pot or pan will suffice for the slow-growing T. navkularis for several years. Move young plants into larger pots whenever it becomes necessary, but discard aging plants in favor of newly-rooted cuttings.
Propagation Take tip cuttings at virtually any time. Insert four to six 3-inch-long cuttings in a 3-inch pot containing an equal-parts mixture of peat moss and sand. Keep the pot in a warm place in bright filtered light, watering just enough to keep the rooting mixture barely moist. Roots will develop in about two weeks. Groups of rooted cuttings can then be planted together in larger pots of the recommended mixture for mature plants and treated in the same way as adult tradescantias. In propagating T. navkularis and T. sillamontana there is a possibility that the cuttings may rot. To forestall rotting, sprinkle some coarse sand or perlite into the holes made for the cuttings.
Alternatively, cuttings 2-3 inches long root easily in small—preferably opaque—glasses of water that are kept in bright light filtered through a translucent blind or curtain. When the roots have grown 1-2 inches long, pot up the cuttings and treat them as mature tradescantias.
Special points Nip out the growing tips of most tradescantias regularly to encourage bushy growth. Remove any drying leaves from the base of the trailing stems.
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