Friday, March 16, 2012

Tradescantia Pallida

After waiting for so long, I eventually spotted a newly-arrived shipment of these gorgeous Tradescantias in a local garden center and did not hesitate to bring one home. I was finally the proud owner of the much sought-after, much longed-for Tradescantia Pallida. And I grinned from ear to ear – for about six to eight weeks. That’s how long it takes this plant to go from charming to homely. And that’s being generous.

Let me explain.

There are plants that age well; there are plants that don’t. The Purple Heart falls into the latter category; it becomes unattractive as it gets older - straggly, washed-out, tired. And it seems to age rather quickly. This is not to say that the plant must be discarded; it should simply be ‘replaced’ with freshly propagated specimens. The beauty of this plant is that it propagates almost overnight (slight exaggeration), which allows you to have a new plant quickly. So even though it can lose its attractiveness, with the proper care, pruning and frequent propagation, you can always have a fresh, attractive specimen adorning your home. And when this plant is in top shape, it is absolutely stunning.

Caring For A Purple Heart

Tradescantia Pallida, a trailing plant native to Mexico, is an ideal choice for a hanging basket with its outstanding purple stems and leaves that are covered with a thin layer of fine hair. In the spring or summer, the plant produces short-lived pink flowers that appear at the stem tips. The blooms are small but they are an attractive addition to this extraordinary plant that is primarily grown for its colourful foliage.

This is a fast-growing specimen that does not have a rest period, so don’t be surprised if repotting to a larger container may be required twice in the same year. Cuttings root very easily in soil or water (usually within 1 – 3 weeks), which can lead to several new plants to fill your home with or pass on as gifts. This attractive specimen is a one-time investment with its speedy growth and its ability to propagate effortlessly. If you buy just one of these plants, you need not ever buy one again.

In order to maintain the deep purple colouring, the plant must be grown in areas with high levels of light where it can enjoy at least 3 – 4 hours of direct sun per day. Although the Purple Heart will tolerate some shade, it will not grow as vigorously and the leaves will lose their rich colour, reverting to a green shade.

Use a fast-draining, porous soil and water thoroughly after the surface of the medium is dry. If your plant is located in a warm, sunny location and growing very rapidly, it may need to be watered quite frequently, so make sure you check up on this plant regularly, especially during the summer season. This is an excellent candidate for the hydroculture system. You can choose to convert a specimen that is growing in soil, or just take cuttings, root them in water and pot them up in clay pellets. Be careful when you are handling the stems; they are easily broken.

Average room temperatures are ideal all year round. Humidity is not critical but above average levels will be appreciated. Because it does not seem to have a resting period, you can feed once a month with an all purpose, liquid fertilizer that is diluted to half strength. Repot the plant as soon as the roots fill the container.

In order to keep the plant bushy, pinch regularly. When the plant becomes leggy, prune back heavily to promote new, compact growth. There’s no need to discard the cuttings; use them to start new specimens. Although, eventually, you may need to toss a few out; the plant has a tendency of growing and reproducing itself faster than you can keep up with it.

Tradescantia Pallida continues to be one of my favourite plants, regardless of how quickly it can deteriorate and lose its pleasant appearance. By pruning often and starting new plants regularly, there’s always a fresh specimen ready to replace a fading one.


  1. You're right about Tradescantia aging without grace. I have a couple clumps that get a good blast of morning sun with architectural shade for most of the day, and those clumps form somewhat attractive mounds. The ones I have in the shade twist and turn and form a general mess in my opinion.

    1. When this plant doesn't receive the amount of sun it desires, it just doesn't grow right. I do love it, but it does need the right amount of light, and to be pruned (or new plants to be started).