Why Spiderwort?

The almost universal common name for Tradescantia virginiana and related species, particularly in its native USA, is Spiderwort. There are many theories as to why this might be but the most popular seems to be that when the stem is cut or broken a thick, white, sticky sap is released which becomes threadlike and silky upon hardening, resembling a spider’s web.

The stretchy characteristic of this sap also gave rise to another common name of ‘Slobber Weed’.

The term ‘wort’ derives from the ancient English term ‘wyrt’ for ‘plant’ or ‘root’. This is probably the derivation of the modern German word ‘wurzel’ meaning ‘root’.

When used as a suffix e.g., ‘bladderwort’, ‘liverwort’, ‘lungwort’ or ‘woundwort’, it is commonly associated with plants which had a medicinal use, the first part of the word denoting the complaint against which the plant was supposedly efficacious.

In the case of Spiderwort, the leaves were supposedly bruised or crushed and made into a poultice to treat spider bites.

However, rather like Euphorbia, the sap is an irritant which causes some people and animals to develop a rash when the sap comes in contact with the skin.

Others think that the leaves look like a squatting spider, because as they grow their weight cause them to droop downward at the tips.

Spiderwort is sometimes also referred to by the name ‘Indian Paint’ which probably comes from the fact that the flower buds and petals stain the skin when crushed which may have given rise to it being used in face or body decoration.

Other common names are ‘Spider Lily’, ‘Moses in the Bullrushes’, ‘Trinity Flower’, ‘Widows Tears’, ‘Dayflower’,  but by far the most popular is Spiderwort.