I was admiring a friend's spiderworts today and commented that mine hadn't bloomed yet. When I got home, however, I found nearly a dozen of the pretty purple flowers glistening with raindrops. I love these plants. They were given to me by my mother, and for several years they grew by the driveway of our old house. I left them when we moved away, but when we returned to Greensboro, the new owner of the house was kind enough to let me dig up several of my old friends.
There are two types of spiderwort: Virginia spiderwort (Tradescantia Virginiana), which I have, is a native perennial with 3-petaled purple flowers. Each flower lasts only one day, but it blooms profusely all summer. The common spiderwort, (Tradescantia andersoniana) is a related hybrid and comes in many colors.
I like it because it fulfills my most important criteria: you don't have to fuss over it. Plant spiderwort in full sun to part shade and leave it alone. It will grow like crazy, especially in moist soil. If it gets too leggy, cut it back to about six inches.
Mine live in a low place at the back of my yard which puddles after any decent rain. They divide easily, so you can start with just a few clumps and soon have all you want. In a few years, you'll be foisting them off on all your friends.
Their names probably comes from their foilage, which is long and narrow, and bends like the legs of a spider. Another theory attributes the name to a thread-like substance, like a spider web, which is secreted when the stalk is cut. "Wort," by the way, rhymes with "dirt" and is simply an Old English word for "plant."
According to the USDA, Native Americans used spiderwort for food and medicinal purposes. Mashed spiderwort leaves were rubbed onto insect bites to relieve pain and itching; a paste made from its roots was used to treat cancer; spiderwort tea served as a laxative and a remedy for stomachaches caused by overeating. It was combined with other ingredients to treat kidney trouble and "female ailments."
I can just imagine the commercials that would have run during mealtime if the Cherokee had had TV back in the day...