TRADESCANTIA (wandering Jew, inch plant)

7 deg C/45 deg F

This is surely one of the most popular and frequently seen of all houseplants, yet it is surprisingly not so often well grown. Untidy, straggly specimens with poor leaf colours abound. The tradescantias are sometimes confused with the rather similar zebrina and may well be sold wrongly named by florists. In appearance these two plants certainly have much in common. The tradescantias are usually grown in their variegated forms rather than as the type species. T. albiflora and T.fluminen-sis, both from South America, have a number of very pretty variations. T. a. ‘Alboviltata has white striped leaves. narrower and more pointed than those oST.fluminensis. T.J. ‘Variegata’ also has white striped leaves, but with purple tinting below, and a golden-yellow colour often suffusing the upper surface. T.J. ‘Tricolor’ has pink, green, and white striping, and the form ‘Quicksilver’ has silvery striping. A species of special note, often grown in conservatories but also useful in the home, is T. blossfeldiana from Argentina. This makes a line basket plant and has much larger leaves than the other tradescantias. It has purple stems and foliage that is purple beneath and dark green above, slightly hairy, and often with a purple tinting. The Mowers of this species are more showy than most. They are about 12mm (jin) wide, rose-purple with white eye. and borne freely in umbels from March to July. A form with cream-striped foliage is sometimes available and is also most decorative. Most people grow tradescantias as trailers, allowing the stems to hang from raised pots, pedestals, wall pots, or baskets. With frequent removal of the growing tips when the plant starts growing in spring, they can also be made to produce more upright growth. There is considerable controversy over the best method of culture, but it would seem that the finest leaf colours are developed with cautious watering. This is despite the fact that in its natural environment the plant may grow in rather wet soils. However, enough water should be given to provide nicely moist conditions for the roots. Another important requirement for best colour contrast and development is good light. So often the plants are tucked away in very gloomy places in the home. Direct sun-

light should be avoided, otherwise the leaves may become scorched, but in dim places the plants lend to become pale and straggly.

Many tradescantias are expected to withstand temperatures far lower than they would like. They may survive if kept on the dry side, but will rarely thrive. T. blossfeldiana should preferably be given a few degrees higher than the minimum suggested, and also moderate humidity. In all cases chills will cause leaves to turn brown around the edges, and the same happens if the roots are allowed to become too dry. Even if plants have been drastically ill-treated, they usually send up new growth if all poor growth is cut back severely in spring. The ease with which stem cuttings root is well known: they will usually root if merely stood in water. As old plants tend to become less decorative, reasonably frequent propagation to provide a supply of young plants is a wise procedure. Most normal potting composts are suitable, and the plants rarely have troubles apart from aphids.

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