A Ballyhoo for Spiderwort

Texas is well-known for its spring wildflowers: BluebonnetLupinus texensis

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Pink evening primroseOenothera speciosa,

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FirewheelGaillardia pulchella,

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…and so many others. Folks from far and wide travel to Texas to view the spring wildflower show. In a good year, open spaces and home gardens are resplendent with color from all parts of the color wheel.

I don’t grow any of the famed Texas wildflowers in my personal garden. Alas, my soil is too heavy and my space too shady for the prairy/grassland flowers that most identify as quintessential Texas wildflowers.  But I certainly love and grow many other native Texas plants and wildflowers and a favorite in bloom right now is a group belonging to the Commelinaceae family–the pride of purple–Tradescantia or Spiderwort.

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There are 19 species of Tradescantia throughout North America, almost half of which reside in Texas.  A woodlands plant, Spiderwort thrive in a variety of soils, but generally prefer part-shade to shade exposure, though it grows well in more sunny conditions, too.  In short, it’s not a picky plant.

I can’t tell you exactly which one of the Tradescantia that are in my gardens because different Spiderwort mix-n-match with one another, hybridizing readily and creating variations in color,

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…height,

…and petal shape.

A simple Spiderwort petal,

A simple Spiderwort petal,

...and a more ruffly form.

…and a more ruffly form.

I started with several individuals gifted to me a few years ago and they’ve self-seeded with aplomb.  Some clumps of these purple zingers trend very purple,

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…and others lean-to the lavender side of things.

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I think the majority of my Spiderwort plants are the Giant spiderwortTradescantia gigantea,  if only because most of them are just so darned tall.

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And so darned purple.

Spiderwort pop up in the late fall or winter, sporting grass-like foliage; during the cool season the foliage grows and thickens.

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As the days lengthen and temperatures warm, fleshy stalks shoot up from the base of the foliage.

A Spiderwort bloom stalk arises.

A Spiderwort bloom stalk arises.

In time, bloom clusters form atop those bloom stalks and purple play begins!

Spiderwort in blooming tandem with Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata.

Spiderwort in blooming tandem with Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata.

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In my garden, Spiderwort blooms for  a rather long period.  Often, the flowering begins at the first of March (if not sooner) and continues well through May. Spiderwort plants are best situated in a more casual garden, though if kept in check, it’s a plant that could work beautifully in a formal setting.  The key phrase is kept in check. Tradescantia re-seed with abandon and can prove weedy and thuggish if allowed to seed out ungoverned. You MUST weed wayward seedlings if they grow where they’re not wanted!  A good time to discipline these rogue germinators  is in winter and early spring, as the seedlings emerge.

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Spiderwort seedlings alongside sprinkled spent blooms of White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.

Spiderwort seedlings alongside sprinkled spent blooms of White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.

If I see a mother plant and scads of babies at her feet AND I don’t want them–out they go! The seedlings are easily removed by hand or with a weeding tool.

The mother Spiderwort is toward the top right of the photo, her progeny are everywhere else.

The mother Spiderwort is at the top right of the photo, her progeny are everywhere else.

Another strategy is to nip Spiderwort in the bud during the blooming season.  Once I notice less flower production, it means that the seeds are developing and it’s time to snip.P1030500.new

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Most of these bloom clusters are ready for seed.

Most of these bloom clusters are ready for seed.

I prune the flower stalks down to the base of the grassy foliage to lessen the spread of the prolific re-seeders.

A just pruned Spiderwort at the end of its bloom cycle.

A just pruned Spiderwort at the end of its bloom cycle.

I’m brutal with this process because I know that if I’m the least bit kind-hearted, Spiderworts will be everywhere in the garden.  I still get plenty of new seedlings each year, but keeping Spiderworts in check prevents mayhem in the garden of the Spiderwort variety.

Despite its mission to spread, Spiderworts are valuable to pollinators and pretty  for me to relish, and therefore, welcome in my garden–with practical limitations of course. Honeybees adore this plant and Tradescantia are visited by native bees and butterflies too.

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A buzzing honeybee sharing Spiderwort pollen with a Syrphid fly.

A buzzing honeybee sharing Spiderwort pollen with a Syrphid fly.

From A Seasonal Look perspective, Spiderwort are primarily winter and spring plants. In a wet and cool autumn, the foliage will emerge early; in a wet and cool early summer, the blooms might last into June, the foliage a little longer.  But once the heat of summer sets in and Spiderwort flowers have bowed out and relinquished the flower show to the heat lovers, the foliage…fades away.  I can’t honestly say exactly when the foliage is no more–but eventually, it disappears.  One of my strategies in planting for seasonal flowering is to plant early spring bloomers underneath the larger summer/fall blooming/berrying shrubs (many of which are herbaceous perennials).  I’m certain that those particular Spiderwort plants hang on for a while after the peak of their blooms, shadowed and covered by the limbs of summer/fall plants.  Since the Spiderwort plants are sheltered by the spread and height of the summer shrubs and perennials, I don’t notice what they’re doing–and I won’t notice (or think about) those Spiderwort plants again until winter’s first freeze renders the deciduous perennials inconsequential and the tell-tale grassy foliage of Spiderwort emerges from the chilled soil.  The caveat is that many of the unwanted Spiderwort in my garden occur because I neglect to deadhead those soon-to-disappear-under-larger-plants Spiderworts.  That’s the downside of planting them underneath larger plants: out of sight, out of mind.

Spring blooming Spiderwort growing amidst Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and Yellow bells, Tacoma stans. Both of these larger perennials will cover the Spiderwort by early summer.

Spring blooming Spiderwort growing amidst Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and Yellow bells, Tacoma stans. Both of these larger perennials will cover the Spiderwort by early summer.

Spring blooming Spiderwort will be overtaken by the rapidly growing Turk's cap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Spring blooming Spiderwort will be overtaken by the rapidly growing Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

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Spiderwort planted underneath a White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis. Most years, the Mistflower freezes to the ground, or nearly so, allowing the Spiderwort a good late winter and spring show.

Spiderwort planted underneath a White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis. Most years, the Mistflower freezes to the ground, or nearly so, allowing the Spiderwort a good late winter and spring show.

For those free-standing Spiderwort individuals that drag into summer, their seasonal end is more obvious.

A self-seeded Spiderwort beside the pond. By late May, the bloom stalks will be pruned and by mid-summer, the foliage will wilt and the gardener will prune the foliage to the soil and toss in the compost bin.

A self-seeded Spiderwort beside the pond. By late May, the bloom stalks will be pruned and by mid-summer, the foliage will wilt and the gardener will prune the foliage to the soil and toss in the compost bin.

What typically happens is that sometime in June or July, they become terribly droopy and sad–heat is not a friend to Spiderwort plants.  I relieve any Spiderwort misery with my trusty Felco pruning shears, cutting down the remaining, sad foliage to the soil. The roots stay safe in the ground until more convivial conditions present and ready the Spiderwort story to begin again: lush winter foliage and enchanting spring flowers.

If  basic preventative pruning and/or seedling weeding is employed, Spiderwort is a desirable spring wildflower for the garden with its lovely foliage and flowers, attraction for many pollinators, and easy growing habit.  What’s not to enjoy about Spiderwort?

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I appreciate the winter foliage and spring flowers–and who wouldn’t?

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A Parade of Pretties: Bloom Day for March

I’m not going to pretend that this post is anything more than a runway fashion show of the botanical kind.  What follows is a shameless and giddy celebration of the the bounty of blooming beauty that is early spring in my Austin, Texas, zone 8b, garden.

Golden Groundsel, Packera obovata, hit its flowering stride since last profiled  for its beautiful foliage a few weeks ago.

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Slender bloom stalks hold aloft the blasts of brilliant yellow,

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…and the gardener smiles.  Tiny critters of all sorts visit–to rest,

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…and pollinate.

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I’m not thrilled when a fly makes its way into my kitchen, but am happy to see it sipping the sweet stuff from the Golden Groundsel.

SpiderwortTradescantia, plants are strutting their flower-power and keeping the honeybees busy.

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This Giant Spiderwort  keeps company with garden furniture.

The many Spiderwort clumps my garden enjoy some variability in size and coloration and I suspect that there’s more than one species growing and cross-mingling through the seasons.

Coral Honeysuckle,  Lonicera sempervirens, a vine hosting dripping clusters of tubular beauty,

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…are surrounded by tiny native metallic bees, which I can only manage a vague photograph of.

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Actually, that’s not really true, but you’ll have to wait until my own Wildlife Wednesday on April 6th to see some slightly better photos of one of the stunningly gorgeous and fast-flying metallic wild bees.

This Coral Honeysuckle bloom cluster and the not-quite-open Spiderwort look like they’re trying to reach one another for a smooch.

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Well, it is spring, you know–the season of love!

Yellow Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana,

Yellow Columbine with blooming Iris.

Yellow Columbine with blooming Iris.

…and the hybrid between A. chrysantha and A. canadensis, pose beautifully and are available for nectaring, too–if you possess the right proboscis, that is.

Hybrid Columbine with backdrop of orange blooming Mexican Honeysuckle and unopened Iris.

Hybrid Columbine with backdrop of orange blooming Mexican Honeysuckle and unopened Iris.

Hybrid Columbine with not yet in bloom day lilies and Yarrow.

Hybrid Columbine with not yet in bloom day lilies and Yarrow.

The A. canadensis is a smaller, mostly brick-red columbine.  But when cross-pollination occurs, the flower of the hybrid is typically larger, with more yellow and a blush of red.  Over the years, the columbines in my gardens have hybridized and I’m delighted with nature’s improvisations.

Globe Mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua, is also open for business,  awaiting interviews from native bees.  So far, it’s been teeny, tiny bees, too fast for this photographer to capture with any competence.

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The first blooms of many-to-come Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, have unfurled their pinky-purple glory, welcoming spring and their lengthy growing season.

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Another first is with this Brazos Blackberry bloom, which heralds more of the same.

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Once those flowers are spent, berries will not be far behind.  Yum!  I can taste the blackberries now–as well as the blackberry cobbler.  Bring’em, blooms!

Dancing at the ends of slender bloom stalks all winter and continuing their performance in the spring breezes, the cheery, bouncy Four-nerve Daisy (Hymenoxys), Tetraneuris scaposa,  flowers are nearly non-stop bloomers.

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Tired of these tidy, singleton blooms?  How about this cascade of Blackfoot Daisy, Melampodium leucanthum.

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A tough Texas native that is best when growing out of poor soil or rock, this one is content and flowering in my Green Tower, which is where I grow veggies and most of my herbs.  The Blackfoot Daisy buddies-up to a thyme plant which also flourishes in the Tower.

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Due to the non-winter this year, Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera, wasn’t freeze-knocked to the the ground and thus is blooming with orange abandon this early spring.

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Mexican Honeysuckle boasts constant pollinator activity, especially from a variety of bees.

Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis) works the Mexican Honeysuckle flowers.

Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis) works the Mexican Honeysuckle flowers.

There’s more where that came from!

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There are too many blooms and not enough time to showcase them all–they’ll just have to participate in another parade!

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Thanking Carol at May Dreams Garden for hosting this monthly bloom frenzy known as Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Share your garden pretties, then click over to her lovely blog to see and learn about blooms from many places.

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Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, April 2014

Joining garden bloggers from around the world, here are my picks for Bloom Day, April 2014 from Austin, Texas.  The Hill Country Penstemon (Penstemon triflorus), thrust upward its bloom stalks during January, but waited until March to unfurl its fuchsia beauty.

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My Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) has bloomed this past month and shows no signs of slowing down, much to the delight of the honeybees.

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The  ‘Brazos’ Blackberry   is in full flower now, with berries to follow.  I can’t wait to eat the berries from the vine in May and June.

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A beautiful cool season bloomer here in Austin is the Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua).

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And there are lots of Columbine this spring.  The Hinckley (or Yellow) Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha var. hinckleyana) is in full glory.
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Blooming alongside another native Columbine, the Wild Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis),

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these two will  rampantly hybridize to create lovely variations of themselves over several seasons.

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Lastly, the Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) blooms are opening daily.

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Happy Spring!

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And thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.