The Wandering Jew plant is the common name given to a number of plants from the Tradescantia genus, including the scientific name Tradescantia Fluminensis, Tradescantia Pallida, and the most popular one – Tradescanita Zabrina.
The common name of “The Wandering Jew” is believed to come from a legend that the wandering jew ‘taunted Jesus’ en route to being crucified and was cursed to walk the Earth until the second coming. This can be viewed as antisemitic to some so be sensitive to that. We love our plants and certainly do not mean to offend when using their common name. Many have started now to use the common name wandering dudes or dude plant.
Some countries classify this species as an invasive plant or even a weed. This is because of its growth habit (it grows fast and prevents the growth of other plants). However, grown indoors it makes an attractive hanging basket or windowsill plant.
The purple wandering jew or purple heart is one of my favorite plants. The foliage is fleshy, has violet leaf colors, easy to care for, has simple propagation, and is just an overall nice houseplant to have in your collection.
There are a number of tradescantia plants very similar in looks, how they’re grown and their growth habit, including the T. zebrina (which has dark green leaves with silver bands), the Tradescantia Fluminensis variegata with cream stripes, and quicksilver which has white stripes. Then there’s the T. Pallida from the same genus which is sometimes named Wandering Jew plant but looks very different from the Tradescantia Fluminensis and Zebrina.
Fleshy oval or lance-shaped leaves are produced from the pendant stems (growing a couple of feet or so long). These small leaves have a shiny appearance and grow to about 2 – 4 inches long with pointed tips. The underside of a leaf is purple in color on the zebrina and new leaves appear purple at first, then turn green. In the wild or grown in gardens (grown as a bedding plant) stems take root at the nodes, but indoors in a hanging basket or container they grow and hang over the sides.
The small non-showy flowers are white in color, appearing during summer usually and at other times (depending on the conditions). These flowers appear in clusters and display three small petals.
Plant Care and Growing
Wandering jew plants are pretty simple to care for and maintain, although providing plenty of bright light is important. Tradescantia naturally becomes spindly and needs to be pruned regularly and pinching stems will encourage fuller growth, improving its appearance.
|South America, Mexico.
|Wandering Jew, Wandering Dude, Dude, purple wandering jew, Flowering Inch Plant (common). Tradescantia Zebrina, Tradescantia Fluminensis [Syn. T. Albiflora] — (botanical/scientific).
|Max Growth (approx):
|Stems grow over 2ft long.
|Poisonous for pets:
|The wandering jew plant is toxic to cats and toxic to dogs however not fatal according to the ASPCA.
|Average plant indoor temperatures of 65-75ºF (18-24ºC) are suitable, and no lower than 50ºF (10ºC).
|Enough light is vital for this plant to grow well, and prevent spindly growth. South or east-facing rooms are best without too much direct sun (some direct sun is appreciated) as they enjoy bright indirect light.
|Water thoroughly from April – October keeping the soil moist – and then much less during November – March.
|A well-draining peat-based potting mix is suitable. 2 parts peat moss and 1 part perlite can be used.
|Repot every two or three seasons when the roots crowd the pot edge. A well drained soil should be used but they are not very picky.
|Feed from April – October with a balanced diluted fertilizer every 2 weeks.
|Average indoor humidity should be fine although high humidity is ideal. To improve humidity mist the leaves frequently or use a pebble tray.
|Wandering Jew propagation is easy with 3 – 5 inch softwood stem cuttings just below the leaf node. Remove all but 1 or 2 leaves and place in a pot with a moist potting mix within a warm and bright setting. Within 3 – 6 weeks you will see new growth appearing. It doesn’t get much simpler than this. Rooting hormone is not needed.
|When the plant becomes leggy prune back the stems and pinch stem tips, during spring or summer.
|Spider mites, aphids, leaf spot, botrytis, powdery mildew, and root rot are common.
- Spindly growth and bare stems: This happens naturally with age for this plant but lack of light, water, or plant food can also cause spindly growth. If the plant is old and conditions are fine (water, light, etc.) then it could be time to replace it.
- All green leaves: Variegated leaves turning green and losing their variegation is most likely due to too much light.
- Limp stems: Limp stems are usually a sign that the plant is lacking water
Take a 3 to 5-inch softwood cutting and place it in a moist potting mixture or water. Wait three weeks and enjoy.
Yes, the wandering jew can live in water indefinitely given nutrients and frequent water changes.
Yes, it is toxic but not fatal to cats, dogs, and horses. The leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals which is the toxic component.
The answer is it can be planted inside or out and is even considered a noxious weed in some areas as it grows so well.
Water often to keep the soil moist but not soaked.
Elyssa Goins is an experienced house plant hobbyist who maintains over a hundred plants. She is a gardener, beekeeper, and a proud mother of four. She is a member of the American Horticultural Society, has a published study in the National Social Science Association, and loves to talk about her love of plants. For the past twenty years, she’s been all about growing and caring for various fruits, veggies, herbs, livestock, kids, and houseplants. Managing a big garden to feed four growing kids and raising dairy goats has taught her so much about being an excellent plant parent and now is her time to share with you.