Keeping Track of Tradescantia: find out about plant names, the National Collection of Tradescantia, & easy to grow, versatile houseplants!

The simple act of adding one or two houseplants to a room can revitalise the space making it feel more inviting, inspiring, and relaxing.  To succeed with houseplants, choose plants that are suited to the light levels and temperatures you can offer, and adapt your watering to suit each plant.

Different Tradescantia cultivars have all kinds of interesting leaf colours, including colourful variegated types.

Tradescantias are houseplant superheroes that will grow in almost any light level.  This genus of sprawling, creeping plants are part of the Commelinaceae family and are native to the Americas.  Tradescantia are herbaceous plants that are usually perennial, but most species have somewhat succulent stems and leaves and make superb houseplants.  They produce simple, three-petaled, short-lived flowers in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white, but what’s amazing about Tradescantia is they are drought-tolerant and happy to grow in a wide range of light levels.  Tradescantias are often happiest basking in bright, direct sunshine, but they will also flourish in sunny and partially shaded rooms, and green-leaved cultivars, like Tradescantia fluminensis ‘Viridis’ will even grow in shade.

After setting up the National Collection of Tender Tradescantia and opening his own online Tradescantia shop, Avery Rowe was appointed International Cultivar Registration Authority (ICRA) for the Tradescantia genus in 2022.  This means that Avery is officially in charge of keeping track of all the cultivar names used for Tradescantia, throughout the world.  Avery follows a detailed set of internationally agreed naming rules.  It’s essential to follow a system for naming plants that allows us to accurately refer to particular species or cultivars when we’re writing and talking about plants or growing plants.  The set of rules that ICRA follow were first put together in the 1950s, the rules have been gradually refined since then, but essentially, they’re the same fundamental rules.

For the naming system to work effectively, it’s imperative to publish and keep track of plant names.  Avery and the other official ICRAs keep track of all the existing names and synonyms used to describe plants from a particular genus.  If any names are confusing, duplicated, or break the rules, the ICRA is in charge of deciding the correct name to use.  Having a shared system like this is the best way to ensure accurate information is shared about plants.

Tradescantia zebrina ‘Violet Hill’ is a very handsome cultivar with striking silver and maroon foliage that turns a vibrant pink-purple hue in strong sunlight.

If somebody has information about a Tradescantia plant, or they think Avery has made a mistake in a naming decision or was not aware of some crucial evidence about a plant, then Avery wants people to contact him, because it’s vital that the information he shares is good quality and reliable.  Avery can only check that each decision he makes is the best one if he has access to the evidence.  Avery regularly carries out research in libraries and online archives, but he doesn’t have access to every book about Tradescantia, so if somebody has a book which has an earlier name for a plant which he hasn’t come across before, please let Avery know.  Similarly, if people have questions or don’t understand something Avery has written it’s helpful to know that too, so he can express himself more clearly.  Avery receives a number of messages asking him to identify Tradescantia from photographs, he enjoys this and is happy to answer questions.

Tradescantia zebrina ‘Superba’ has very smooth leaves with silver and maroon variegation.

Avery is also in charge of registering new Tradescantia cultivars.  If a grower develops a new Tradescantia cultivar, they should provide Avery with a description of the plant, and the name they’ve chosen.  Avery will check and confirm the name, and then publish the name of the new plant and keep track of it.  This makes it easier for us to accurately publish a new cultivar, and for anyone to know what cultivar names are already in use.  There’s no cost involved to register plants, registration is free – it doesn’t have anything to do with money or patents or copyright – so there’s no financial barrier to doing it.  The ICRA doesn’t decide whether a new cultivar is worthy of growing – they just keep track of all the names and how they are used.  You can see the Tradescantia cultivar checklist in full on Tradescantia Hub’s website.

This is my Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’, this plant was grown from a cutting about 5 months ago. My plant is showing signs of being troubled by thrips – it has some discolouration where thrips have fed on the plant’s sap. I expect that when the sunlight levels increase, this Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’ plant’s foliage will take on a more vibrant purple colour. However, we’ve had a rather gloomy start to the year with many wet, overcast, cloudy days and light levels have been lower than usual for my indoor and outdoor plants.

Avery provides a considerable amount of information on Tradescantia Hub about the research he’s done, and how he makes decisions.  Every single Tradescantia cultivar has a page of its own explaining what the plant looks like, why that name was chosen, which other names are used for the same plant, and which other plants are commonly confused with it.  If you’re looking for information about a particular plant, or if you’re unsure which name is correct, you can find the answers on Tradescantia Hub.  If you buy a plant at your local garden centre and you’re not sure if it’s named correctly, you can search that name and discover whether that’s considered to be a synonym or trade name, and find out what the correct name is.

Here’s one of my Tradescantia cerinthoides ‘Nanouk’ plants. It doesn’t stand out dramatically in this picture, but my plant is in flower.

Avery tends plants from 14 species of Tradescantia (including 74 cultivars) for the National Collection, but there are more Tradescantia cultivars that Avery hopes to acquire.  Top of Avery’s wish list is Tradescantia cerinthoides ‘Variegata’; a plant that hasn’t been seen for ten years and might be extinct now, but there’s a possibility it could be growing away happily inside someone’s home – if you’ve got one, please get in touch.  See Avery’s ‘Wanted Tradescantia List’ in full by clicking here.

Tradescantia sillamontana are endearing plants with a silky-soft covering of furry, wooly hairs. These plants flourish in bright, intense sunlight, making Tradescantia sillamontana an ideal choice of houseplant to grow in the sunniest spot inside your home.

If you’re looking for a resilient houseplant with the ability to thrive in intense bright, direct light, let me recommend Tradescantia sillamontana.  I adore Tradescantia sillamontana’s rounded, woolly leaves.  This species boasts supreme drought tolerance; plants only require watering occasionally when their compost has dried out.  Tradescantia prefer an arid environment and don’t want to be misted or sprayed with water.

One of the many wonderful things about Tradescantia is they are incredibly easy to propagate.  Simply snip off a stem, remove the lower leaves, and pop it in a small pot of free-draining peat-free compost or sphagnum moss and you’ll have a new plant in a few weeks’ time.  Tradescantias are fantastic plants to propagate to generate plants for a local Plant Sale to raise money for your local hospice, school, or gardening club.

Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Pixie’ is a very pretty Tradescantia with purple stems and green leaves that are flushed with purple. This is what my plant looks like – it was grown from a single cutting that I potted up almost six months ago; as the stem grew, I took more cuttings that I inserted into the same pot of peat-free compost. My plant has not taken on the more vibrantly coloured purple foliage that this cultivar is usually known for – due to the light levels being very dull this spring, thanks to all the rain we’ve experienced.

When my heating broke for a week and temperatures inside my home plummeted to under 10C (50F) I lost my Tradescantia plants.  I am unsure how many plants I had at the time, probably around fifty.  The RHS lists Tradescantia as requiring temperatures of 15C (60F) or above and I make this same recommendation too, because of my experience.  Avery has far more experience and knowledge about Tradescantia than me, and in his experience, Tradescantia are all far hardier than this.  Avery has exposed his entire collection to temperatures down to 0C (32F) with no damage at all.  He has found that as soon as temperatures dip below freezing, Tradescantia zebrina will die.  However, some species like Tradescantia fluminensis seem to be able to survive even sustained frosts.  Avery cultivates duplicate plants from his National Collection outside, these plants have recently experienced several nights with temperatures down to -5C (23F), and the Tradescantia fluminensis are still only showing mild signs of damage!

Tradescantia zebrina ‘Burgundy’ leaves display handsome Burgundy and silver coloured variegation.

In general, Avery advises people that all tropical Tradescantias can cope with any temperature above freezing.  When temperatures drop below 10C (60F) their growth slows down significantly and it’s best to keep them pretty dry, like dormant cacti or succulents.  We tend to spend more time indoors in February and March, so this is an ideal opportunity to purchase houseplants.

This is Tradescantia spathacea ‘Concolor’, it’s different to the usual trailing types of Tradescantia and has a handsome, upright form.

My Tradescantia spathacea ‘Concolor’ is displaying clear signs of thrips damage – the leaf tip on one of this plant’s leaves is a little twisted and puckered – this is caused by thrips sucking the sap from the leaf whilst it was newly emerging.

I’ve got an annoying outbreak of thrips at the moment on my indoor plants.  I use SB Plant Invigorator to control thrips, aphids, mealy bug, and other pests on all my indoor plants, including my orchids.

For more articles about houseplants, please click here.

To see my plant pages and see pictures and information to help you grow a wide range of plants, including houseplants, orchids, and ferns, to daffodils, roses, and perennials, to plants for bees and butterflies, container plants, climbers, trees and shrubs, please click here.

For gardening advice for April, please click here.

To see more articles about National Plant Collections, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Houseplant Fairs, Houseplant Sales, and Houseplant Swaps, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Orchid Plant Sales, Orchid Auctions, Orchid Talks, and Orchid Events, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Daffodil Garden Openings and Daffodil Events, please click here.

To see my Calendar of Specialist Plant Fairs, Plant Sales, Plant and Seed Swaps, please click here.

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One thought on “Keeping Track of Tradescantia: find out about plant names, the National Collection of Tradescantia, & easy to grow, versatile houseplants!

  1. Emma

    March 29, 2024 at 10:58am

    Dear Beth,
    So very interesting to read and learn about Avery Rowe’s work and ICRA !

    I don’t have a green thumb when it comes to indoor plants and I cannot bear the sight of a plant which is slowly wasting away: I become depressed !
    My house is an old dark-ish house which can become drafty and chilly in winter so it’s difficult to find attractive plants willing to live in such an environment.
    So far, the only plant that has really been thriving in my home is a Monstera I bought many years ago, and her descendants.
    Your article about tradescantia really gave me the wish to try my luck one more time 🙂

    RE. your thrips problem. I don’t have thrips but a case of sciarid ! They moved in last summer, I don’t know how ! I don’t see any damage on the monstera which is as vigorous as ever, but I hate seeing the little beasts crawling on the clay balls when I water the plants. It’s been a battle since then : I use yellow stickers to collect the adults and nematodes in the water for the eggs/larvae/pupae. It would be great if you could write an article about the various pest one can find on house plants, and which environmentally responsible treatment you recommend !

    Thanks again for a very interesting article !

    Emma from Germany

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