Friday, January 27, 2012

Tradescantia Zebrina

Formerly known as Zebrina pendula, this trailing plant is usually referred to as ‘wandering Jew’. Although much less common, other names include inch plant (or inchplant), purple wandering Jew, silver inch plant and wandering zebrina. Native to Mexico, this is a popular houseplant that is grown for its attractive foliage. The top of the fleshy leaves is green (older growth) and purple (new growth) with two creamy silver stripes; the lower leaf surface is a deep purple. (Some sources suggest that the undersides are a magenta shade but I just don’t see it; it looks purple to me with perhaps a tiny hint of red.)

The attractive foliage is not its only appeal; T. zebrina is a long-time favourite because it’s quite easy to grow. This is a great plant for a beginner to start with, and a terrific choice as a gift. It grows quickly, propagates easily (roots form practically overnight (yes, I’m exaggerating) in water) and looks spectacular when properly cared for.

Perhaps one of the most important requirements to keeping a T. zebrina happy is sufficient light. It is not a rumour that this lovely plant will tolerate low light, but it is a rumour that it will thrive in such a location. This Tradescantia prefers – and needs – some direct sun, but will grow happily in a spot that offers at least filtered sunshine. In dim areas, the leaves will grow smaller and the plant will get leggy. Also, sufficient light is needed for the plant to retain its purple color; in too much shade the leaves will revert to a green shade.

A standard all-purpose houseplant soil is fine; keep it moist at all times. Do not make it a habit of under-watering, which will cause the leaves to dry to a crisp. You can over-water this plant, but only if you grow it in a compact, slow-draining medium in a dark area. T. zebrina grows rapidly, and if it basks in the sun in a container that’s just the right size (not too big), it will be thirsty enough to dry out its soil quite fast.

In addition to being beautiful and easy to grow, T. zebrina is also wonderfully versatile when it comes to growing methods and their mediums. You can grow it in soil (as is stated above). You can grow it in Hydroculture, which only requires tip cuttings that have rooted in water to be transferred to clay pellets. And you can grow it directly in water - indefinitely. Cuttings rooted in water can be left there if you choose to grow this plant that way. Just make sure to change the water regularly to keep it fresh.

T. zebrina grows rapidly when it is watered properly, when it is provided with enough light and when it is fed regularly. If grown in soil or hydroculture, feed your Tradescantia once every 2 – 4 weeks during the spring and summer seasons. If you are growing directly in water, fertilize very lightly (dilute to 1/10th the recommended strength) and very infrequently (once a month, or once every six weeks, is enough).

Cool to average home temperatures, 13ºC (55°F) - 24°C (75°F), will keep your plant happy. T. zebrina can tolerate (and survive) much lower levels (close to the freezing point), although I wouldn’t recommend long-term exposure to very cold temperatures. Dry air is handled well, but higher humidity is much more beneficial.

Give your plant a shower every now and then to remove dust from leaves and to keep pests at bay. Pinch regularly to keep it bushy and attractive. If your Tradescantia becomes leggy, prune back hard to promote new, compact growth. There’s no need to discard the cuttings; use them to start new plants.


  1. Hello, I've been lookign for this plant for quite some time now, do you know where I could find it in Kingston?

  2. Check the local greenhouses/garden centres. Ask if they have this plant in stock, or plan to bring it in.