Plant Sheet: Purple Queen Plant (Tradescantia pallida)

* Image sources: All images used in this post are from the author

This member of the spiderwort family is a little less common than its cousin Tradescantia zebrina (zebra plant) but you find it a bit more often in households than for example the Tradescantia spathacea (boat lily).

The Tradescantia pallida with its soft purple hue is a beautiful and special guest in your houseplant family. It naturally grows in the northeast of Mexico and prefers bright indirect light or afternoon sun. As a succulent plant, it only needs water once part of the soil has dried.

Here are some handy care tips and background info on where this plant comes from, what it likes, and how to propagate it. Get to know your Tradescantia houseplant better and let it thrive!

Origin and Natural Habitat of Tradescantia pallida

The Tradescantia pallida, also called Purple Queen, Purple Heart, or Purple Spiderwort Plant, naturally grows in the Gulf Coast region of the northeast of Mexico. If you happen to go on holiday on the Yucatan peninsula, scan the landscapes for this purple fellow!

In its natural habitat, it is a crawling and climbing plant that grows in sunny and dry spots on any type of ground. As it has been used as an ornamental plant in gardens, it has renaturalized itself in many warm and humid regions around the world.

The Purple Queen has succulent stems and fleshy, pointy leaves of a dark purple hue. The purple color is accentuated with more sunlight and drier periods.

Brighten Up the Purple Queen’s Day: Light and Water Requirements

Though the Purple Queen comes from a humid subtropical region, it is also used to periods of drought (it is semi-succulent) and hence does quite well with less water.

Only water this plant once the upper two inches (about 2 cm) of the soil are completely dry. In summer, this may mean watering it every couple of days. In winter, once a week or less will be enough.

It naturally grows in sunny spots but as it is an undergrowth plant, it often gets some shade of bigger trees around it. Hence its leaves didn’t evolve to deal with scorching midday sunlight. Ideally, you place it in a half-shade spot that gets a couple of hours of morning or late afternoon sun to avoid burning its leaves.

A Purple Heart’s Guide to Happiness: Care Tips

Apart from avoiding drowning this plant, there is not much you need to watch out for. It is a super undemanding houseplant.

If you want to keep it in a standing pot, you may want to give it a trim occasionally to promote the growth of new stems. If you don’t trim it, it will naturally grow fewer stems but longer ones which makes it more suitable as a hanging plant in a basket.

Tip: If you find just the right spot for this plant in terms of light, then it might thank you with some flowers in summer!

This plant, like most houseplants, does not like to sit in water. To make sure that the soil keeps its drainage function, you can repot this plant every spring with fresh, well-draining soil.

How do you know if your soil drains well? To find out, check out my post about mixing your indoor soil and what drainage materials you best use!

How to Propagate Tradescantia pallida

Like other members of the spiderwort family, the Purple Heart Plant is best propagated with stem cuttings. Choose two or three younger stems and gently cut them off close to the plant’s base, leaving a fair bit of stem on them.

Make sure you cut it just below an axial joint. These joints are where the plant shoots out new roots once put in soil or water. Sometimes you can even see the tips of tiny roots at a joint – that’s a good sign to cut it there.

Important: The cut is best done with a sharp kitchen knife or blade. I don’t recommend using any type of scissors. Scissors can crush the fragile vessels inside the stem that transport water and nutrients, making it more difficult for the cut stems to regrow.

After cutting, place the stems in a jar or vase filled with water. I prefer propagating in water as you can watch the process and it’s easier to see when the plant has grown enough roots to be replanted in soil. Planting the stems directly in the soil is also possible, though not as satisfying to watch and it may take a little longer for the plant to root well.

Once you have chosen a water container, check if any leaves of the stems are submerged in water. If that’s the case, then cut off all the submerged leaves close to the stem. Submerged leaves can start rotting which you want to avoid.

Now, give the stems some time to root. It takes about 2-3 weeks normally. Once the stems have grown a small root ball, you can take them out of the water and put them into their forever home plant pot with soil. You now have proliferated your Tradescantia houseplants!

Tip: As for the water container, choose one with a wide opening such as a jar. It will make it easier to take the stems out once they have grown roots without damaging the new roots squeezing them through a tight bottleneck.

Purple Queen Superpowers

The Purple Queen is an incredibly fast-growing groundcover plant, and if not trimmed, it soon covers whole grounds creating a bed of purple leaves. Though this may look stunning, it takes away the space and light for other species to grow.

This superpower is hence not always welcome, especially in zones outside its natural habitat where the plant can easily become an invasive species. In some places such as Cuba or Costa Rica, the plant is locally called ‘cucaracha extranjera’ which translates as ‘the foreign cockroach’ – the comparison to a cockroach is definitely not the kindest for a plant. (Source: CABI Digital Library)

Give your living room a hint of purple with the Purple Queen. (Image source: author photo)

This plant has more desirable traits, though. The family of the Tradescantia plants has been found to contain many beneficial compounds and while these plants have been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, western scientists are only now starting to discover the many benefits of herbal medicines such as the Tradescantias.

“[…] members of the Tradescantia genus show promise as sources of desirable bioactive compounds […] including their anticancer, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antidiabetic activities.”

Joash, Tan & Kwan, Yee-Min in Food Chemistry (2020)

The Purple Queen plant’s leaf extract specifically can be used as a medicine against diabetes. Science is now mainly trying to figure out how to encapsulate this antidiabetic extract better to enable a wider distribution.

More About Plant Care

How to Grow Houseplants In Water?

The Tradescantia pallida is among the houseplants that grow well in water. Instead of just propagating it in water, you can grow it permanently without soil as a hydroculture plant.

Growing plants in water is called hydroponics or hydroculture. The soil is substituted by just water or by a hydroculture material such as bloated clay. The plant receives all nutrients through fertilizing. Find out in my post linked here how hydroponics works and get to know seven other plant types suitable for hydroponics!

Are you doubting whether growing plants in water is better than soil? You are right! There are benefits and disadvantages to both. Read about the pros and cons of both growing methods in my post linked here. Enjoy reading!

Top or Bottom Watering Houseplants?

When it comes to watering your houseplants, you can choose to water them from the top or the bottom. For the first very common method, you pour water over the soil at the stem of the plants while for the latter method, you let the plants sit in water until they soak up no more of it.

There are benefits to both watering methods. When choosing which way to water your indoor plants, consider their natural habitat and water needs. For water-loving tropical plants, bottom and top watering can be an option. For arid plants such as succulents and cacti, top watering is much more suitable.

There is more to it! Check out my complete post about the benefits and disadvantages of top and bottom watering and how to do bottom watering in my post through this link.

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