Spiderwort / Lilac Tradescantia: Plant Care Guide (Collection Favorite)

I have many favorites in my houseplant collection, but my pink-striped Lilac Tradescantia tops the list. It’s lovely to look at and one of the easiest plants to care for, making it an excellent choice for beginning and seasoned gardeners alike.

Lilac is a small-leaved, trailing Tradescantia that grows 6 to 8 inches high and trails 12 to 14 inches in length. Its oval, medium green leaves are 1 to 2 inches long and decorated with narrow, lavender-pink stripes. The stems and undersides of the leaves are purple.

Lilac vs. Nanouk

Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

Lilac Tradescantia is often confused with the trendy Nanouk variety because of its similar coloring, and there is a botanical controversy surrounding the two. Some feel it is the same plant, and others think it is a sport arising from Nanouk and, therefore, a separate variety.

Yet others are sure it isn’t even a separate variety – it’s a separate species altogether.

Its origins are unclear. Nanouk was patented in 2018 under the name Tradescantia albiflora ‘Nanouk,’ but the newer accepted name is Tradescantia flumanensis ‘Nanouk,’ although you’ll still see it sold under its patented name.’ Lilac Tradescantia is not patented and thought to be correctly named Tradescantia cerinthoides ‘Lilac.’

Still, you’ll often see it termed T. flumanensis ‘Lilac’ or even T. blossfeldiana ‘Lilac’ with the name Bubblegum included. Confusing? You bet!

There are subtle differences between the two plants, though. Nanouk is more compact than Lilac, with purple stems rather than green and brighter pink coloring on the leaves. Lilac has a delicate lavender-pink color and leaves that grow slightly longer than Nanouk’s as they mature.

But whichever variety we have, whether Lilac or Nanouk, their care is the same. When you give them the right soil, light, and water, they will reward you with their charming foliage for years.

Attribute Detail
Botanical Name Tradescantia cerinthoides ‘Lilac’ – A distinct variety known for its pink-striped leaves.
Common Names
  • Wandering Jew – A traditional name, though less commonly used now due to cultural sensitivity.
  • Spiderwort – A general name for several Tradescantia species.
  • Inch Plant – Refers to its rapid growth rate.

Care of Your Lilac Tradescantia Plant

This plant is native from Brazil to Argentina, growing in a tropical environment along moist roadsides and rocky cliffs. The variegated, Lilac version of T. cerinthoides needs a little more TLC than the species, but understanding where it originated will help you care for your plant.

Light

Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

Tradescantias, in general, need very bright light out of the direct sun’s rays that can burn their leaves. So the best indoor location is an east- or north-facing window with good light but not direct sun.

If you don’t have that exposure available in your house, you can set it back from a west- or south-facing window or even hang a sheer curtain to soften the light. I have mine in a west window obstructed by a row of trees that afford it bright light but never direct sunlight.

Variegated plants, like Lilac Tradescantia, need the brightest indirect light they can get to bring out their most vivid colors. They can survive in lower light, but their variegation may appear faded.

If you take your plant outdoors in the summer like I do to enjoy the warmth, humidity, and light, make sure that you keep it in the shade under a tree or covered patio or porch. Outdoor shade will give it plenty of indirect light and prevent it from burning in the sun.

Temperature

Your Lilac will grow best in average household temperatures between 65- and 75 degrees F. You must be careful, though, to keep your plants away from cold drafts through winter windows or air conditioner vents.

My plants protest when cold air blows on them from the ceiling air conditioner vent. I have to rearrange them away from the cold blast but still give them the same amount of light.

Humidity

Tradescantias enjoy seasonal high humidity, around 50 percent, but they can live comfortably in average household humidity, which is about 20 to 30 percent.

If you want to increase the humidity around your plant, mist it lightly, set it on a pebble tray with water, or use a humidifier.

Soil and Pot

Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

Your Lilac needs a well-draining, slightly acidic potting mix. A good, organic indoor mix will work fine as long as you amend it with perlite, some orchid bark, or succulent mix to ensure good drainage. I make my own potting soil with indoor mix and add peat, perlite, and sometimes orchid mix.

Any pot that isn’t too big for your plant and has a drainage hole in the bottom will do. When you repot, only go one size up, which should be a half-inch to an inch bigger than the root ball.

If you tend to water your plants too frequently, choose a clay (terracotta) pot that will draw moisture through its walls and dry the soil quicker than plastic or ceramic pots.

Water

Tradescantias like their soil to remain consistently moist but never soggy. Instead of following a schedule, I prefer to poke my finger down into the soil to determine the moisture level. I’ve found that the best time to water my Lilac is when it’s dry one-half to one inch down from the top. A moisture meter will also help.

Water from the top and let it run completely through the pot and out the drainage holes. As an alternative, you can water your plant from the bottom by placing the pot in a bowl or dish of water for 15 to 20 minutes, letting the soil draw water up through the drainage holes.

If you decide to bottom water, you’ll need to occasionally flush any accumulated minerals out of the soil by watering it through the top. Variegated Tradescantias are very sensitive to the mineral salts in tap water, so it’s best to use distilled or rainwater for your Lilac and all your plants.

Rain barrels efficiently collect water, but I use an army of jugs and containers for rainwater, which is just as effective.

Fertilizer

Tradescantias are not heavy feeders, but if you want to boost your plant’s growth and well-being, feed it with half-strength, complete fertilizer every two months during the spring and summer, backing off from any fertilizer in the fall and winter.

Pests

The most common pests that feast on Tradescantias are red spider mites and aphids, but mealybugs and scale have also been known to infest the plants.

Red spider mites and aphids

Red spider mites are small, eight-legged little critters that suck the plant juices out of your houseplants. They cause stippling and curling of the leaves and produce a tell-tale sign of webbing over the leaves and stems.

Aphids are small black or green insects that suck plant juices out of new shoots and leaves and cause distorted, stunted growth. They produce sticky honeydew, a substance that can grow mold and cause further problems.

Both pests can be controlled with a spray of insecticidal soap, Neem oil, or a 3:1 solution of water and 92% isopropyl alcohol with two tablespoons of Dawn dish detergent stirred in. If you have a bad infestation, you may have to repeat the treatment until the pests are gone.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are small insects in the Scale family that suck plant juices, causing wilted, distorted leaves, especially on the undersides of new growth. Male mealybugs can fly, but the females are slow-moving, cottony insects that are easy to see.

You can control these bugs by picking most of them off with tweezers and then spraying them with insecticidal soap, Neem oil, or the same isopropyl alcohol recipe mentioned above for spider mites and aphids.

Scale

Scale insects are hard, armored versions of mealybugs that cause wilting and discoloration of the leaves. Since they have hard shells, scale insects are best controlled with a spray of the 92% isopropyl alcohol solution. After you have sprayed, wipe the upper and undersides of the leaves to remove any remaining eggs, larvae, or adults.

Pruning

During the spring and summer, your Lilac Tradescantia will grow quickly, up to an inch a week! You will want to keep it in shape as it grows by pruning between the nodes where the leaves attach to the stems. You can do this at any time of the year, but spring or summer is best.

Propagation

The cuttings you made from pruning your plant can easily be propagated, so you’ll have more Lilac Tradescantias to brighten your home and give to friends. You can do this in water or soil.

Water

Image Credit: cldemara/Shutterstock.

Water propagation is simple. Just take cuttings from when you pruned your plant, remove the bottom leaves, and put them in a clear glass jar with clean distilled or rainwater. Set them in bright indirect light in a warm spot, and you will be able to see the progress of root growth that should begin in a couple of weeks.

NOTE: Change the water every 5 of 6 days to keep algae from growing.

Plant the roots in a moist potting mix when they are about 2 to 3 inches long. Dig a little hole several inches deep in the soil, and put the rooted cutting in. Press the soil down lightly and give it a small amount of water. It will take a week or so to acclimate, and then you will have a new, healthy plant.

Soil

Start with a pot full of moist, amended potting soil and a Lilac cutting with the bottom leaves removed. Stick a pencil into the soil about 3 inches down to make a hole and put the cutting in the hole.

Press the soil down around the cutting, set it in a warm spot with indirect light, and keep the soil lightly moist. You won’t be able to see the progress of the roots, but they should begin to grow in 3 to 4 weeks.

OPTIONAL: Dip the cutting ends in rooting hormone to speed up root growth before sticking them in the soil.

Toxicity

Tradescantias are toxic to people and pets, so keep your beautiful Lilac up and out of the reach of little hands and paws.

Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.