Breezy Afternoons

Houseplant Spotlight: Tradescantia Zebrina

Tradescantia Zebrina

The incredibly vivid colors of the Tradescantia Zebrina, make this an extremely popular house plant. All of your questions about the Zebrina are answered here.

Tradescantia Zebrina is a beautiful, hardy plant that thrives indoors. I received a mature plant for Christmas this year, and four months into the new year my plant is growing incredibly fast with very little maintenance. This particular plant is not my first Tradescantia. Once you know how to care for one of these plants, you will realize it is incredibly easy.

Before: Christmas 2020; After: April 2021

Lighting Conditions

Tradescantia Zebrina, aka Wandering Dude or Wandering Plant, enjoys bright, indirect light. You will want to keep the temperature between 60 and 80 degrees, but do not worry if the temperatures are out of this range for a short time. My plant survived temperatures in the thirties during a freak storm when the Texas power grid failed and my indoor plants were exposed to frigid temperatures.

The leaves can become burned if directly hit by the hot sun. I keep mine hanging right in front of an east-facing window. As you can see from the above photographs, my Zebrina grows several inches per month. I’m at the point now where I’m offering cuttings to anyone who is interested. The Tradescantia Zebrina is extremely easy to propagate, which I’ll discuss more below.

How Often Do I Water a Tradescantia Zebrina?

Water depends on several factors: Temperature, humidity levels, and light levels. Plus, some plants are just different – even plants of the same species. You will get to know how much your plant needs after a few months of testing. I give this plant a good drink with a water hose about once every 10 days – but the temperatures this spring have been very mild. In the summer, when the sun is high in the Texas sky and the heat reaches triple digits, this plant will need watering 2-3 times a week.

The Tradescantia Zebrina leaves will be visibly thin and brittle when the plant is thirsty. Give your plant a good drink if you see this and the plant should plump right back up in a matter of hours. The soil should be moist, but never soggy or water-logged. Soggy soil leads to root rot, so make sure your planter has plenty of drainage holes.

What Type of Soil and Fertilizer Does the Tradescantia Zebrina Need?

Fortunately, Tradescantia Zebrina is not picky. Any commercial potting soil will cause this plant to thrive. Just keep the soil moist and the air bright and you will be fine. For fertilizer, again, commercial fertilizers are fine – Zebrina is a tropical type plant, native to Mexico, so pick a tropical or houseplant fertilizer and apply it at half strength every three to six months. Repot annually by rinsing the dirt off of the roots and planting in fresh soil. If you want. You really do not need to, This is an incredibly hardy plant.

Is the Tradescantia Zebrina Toxic to Cats and Dogs?

The ASPCA plant toxicity guide lists Tradescantia as toxic to dogs, cats and horses. If your pet has consumed tradescantia, please call your Veteranarian immediately for advice or call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

If you are a pet owner and you want to have a Tradescantia, do not worry! They’re beautiful in hanging planters.

How do I Propagate Tradescantia Zebrina?

Good news! Tradescantias of all varieties are very easy to propagate. To the left is a photograph of a Pink Nanouk Tradescantia cutting that I placed into the water two weeks ago. Within 14 days, the cutting has multiple roots that are over an inch long.

I placed the cutting in the same east-facing window as my Zebrina, and as you can see, it is thriving. Cut off a stem that has 3-5 leaves on it at the node where a leaf has grown. The stem I pinched this piece from is pictured below, and as you can see, a new leaf is coming in where the cutting was removed.

Of course, you can also just trim the stem from a node near the bottom and plant the cutting directly in the soil. Either method will work.

Zebrinas are said to live up to two years – I will certainly try to keep them longer, but they grow fast and easily enough to where you can continually propagate and give cuttings as gifts to other plant lovers!

Within 14 days, new growth appears where the cutting was removed.

Name Controversy

One of the first subjects Breezy Afternoons ever tackled was a sister plant of the Tradescantia Zebrina, called the Pink Nanouk Tradescantia. Both plants have been historically known as “Wandering Jew” – a term that modern nurseries and plant-lovers are replacing with the less-offensive and much more fun term “Wandering Dude’ or just plain old “Tradescantia.”

Where I fall on this is the philosophy I use in my entire life: acknowledge the past, listen to those who ask for a change, and do the decent thing. Let’s erase the term “Wandering Jew” out of our vernacular. No one who has used this term is a bad person, I was raised using this term as well. But now we know better, so let’s do better.

Trivia: This plant was once called the Zebrina Pendula!

I’ve included the term in the tags for this post, so the good-meaning people who just love this plant but didn’t realize some people find the term offensive could come checkout the plant care guide and maybe help spread the word. The wide majority of google searches refer to this plant using the old term.

Other Information

If you have any questions or other information you believe that I should include here, please comment and let me know! If you are also a Tradescantia lover like I am, please share pictures of your babies with me.

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