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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Common Spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata)

Found throughout all but the extreme northern counties of North Dakota, common spiderwort is a striking plant. Elsewhere, the species ranges from Montana to Kansas eastward to Michigan and Indiana.

This is an odd-shaped perennial monocot. Monocots, among other characteristics, have woody fibers generally throughout the stem, whereas in a much larger class of plants, the dicots, the fibers are arranged in a ring around the pith. Flowers of common spiderwort are found in clusters of 5-15 atop stems that have only a few very narrow leaves up to a foot long. Two leaf-like bracts accompany each flower cluster. The light blue to deep lavender flowers are three petalled, and nearly an inch wide. When viewed from above, the whole plant vaguely resembles a large "spider", with the flower cluster forming the "body" and the leaves and bracts forming the "legs."

Common spiderwort likes sandy soils and seems to be most abundant where grazing is light to moderate. Young foliage of some spiderworts is occasionally mentioned as being useful for edible greens and potherbs.

This plant is a member of the largely tropical spiderwort family (Commelinaceae), the name dedicated to a family of seventeenth century Dutch botanists named Commelin. The generic name was dedicated to John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I of England. The specific epithet bracteata means "bracted" in botanical Latin. The plant was described for science in 1898 by botanist and curator of the New York Botanical Garden John Small (1869-1938).

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