Tradescantia pallida (purple heart) and Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant) are Good Choices to Consider
by Linda Cornish Blank, Extension Master Gardener
If you’re looking to introduce indoor plants to your home, Tradescantia pallida (purple heart) and Chlorophytum comosum (spider plant) are two good choices for starter houseplants. Following are growing basics for each plant.
Purple heart requires bright light, so you’ll need a window with either southern or western exposure. Bright light will enable the plant’s fleshy, lance-shaped leaves and stems to retain their dark purple color and produce pale purple flowers with yellow stamens. The flowers are produced at the end of fleshy stems which grow off leaf nodes. Blooming occurs primarily from late spring into the fall. With bright light, the plant will flower during winter months as well.
A native of Mexico, purple heart is drought tolerant, requiring minimum watering. This plant is virtually pest free. I can attest to this as over the decades I’ve grown purple heart, I’ve never had to combat pests.
Commercial fertilizer for indoor plants can be used according to label directions from early spring until the end of summer. Don’t over fertilize as this can cause pale foliage. Plant growth occurs with individual leaf stems emerging at soil level. Make sure these new stems have sufficient space and light to grow alongside existing stems. Insufficient space and light will cause the new growth to be dwarfed and pale in color. With growth, leaf and flower stems become trailers, making a nice hanging plant.
However, stems can become spindly and break off easily. Fortunately, the leaf stems are easy to propagate by cutting at a node anywhere along the stem. The node of the cutting can be rooted in a container of good quality potting mix to create a new plant. New growth will occur in your existing plant from the site of the node cut.
Drought tolerant, pest resistance, and easy propagation make purple heart a good starter houseplant for beginner growers.
The spider plant prefers bright to moderate indirect light. Place the plant near an east facing window or several feet from a window with southern or western exposure to provide needed light. This clump-forming plant has strap-like, thin leaves rising from a central point. Leaves appear folded down the middle and are typically variegated with lengthwise stripes of white or yellow. It is a native of coastal South Africa.
Allow plants to dry out briefly between watering. This will help to avoid overwatering by preventing root rot which can be common to this plant’s thick, fleshy tuberous roots. The roots store water, allowing it to survive inconsistent watering.
Spider mites, whiteflies, and scale are common pest problems. I can attest only to brown scale being a problem. Infestation can usually be avoided by checking plants frequently for pests. However, if a plant does get infested, scale can be wiped off with cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Feed plants with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer according to label directions from early spring until early fall. Don’t over fertilize as this can cause brown tips on the leaves.
Usually in late summer or early fall, mature plants produce small white, star-shaped flowers at the end of long shoots. Plantlets, small young plants, develop after the flowers. Plantlets form and grow best when the mature plant is slightly pot-bound. As the plant continues growing, its thick roots push the plant out of its container. For this reason, spider plants need to be regularly repotted or divided.
Propagation is achieved by detaching plantlets once roots have formed or by dividing the original plant. Pot plantlets and the divided plant in containers of good quality potting mix. Hanging containers work well to display the plant’s long strap-like leaves and trailing plantlets.
Minimum watering, few pests, and easy propagation make the spider plant a good starter houseplant for beginner growers.
- University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences. Fact Sheets FPS-126 & 549. Edward F. Gilman. https://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/shrub_fact_sheets/chlcoma.pdf http://hort.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/shrub_fact_sheets/setpala.pdf
- Aggie Horticulture. “Purple Heart.” Accessed January 2021.
- “Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida.” Published 2009-01-30 by Susan Mahr. https://mastergardener.extension.wisc.edu/article/purple-heart-tradescantia-pallida/
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Master Gardener Program, Division of Extension. “Spider plant, Chlorophytum comosum.” Published 2006-11-03 by Susan Mahr. https://mastergardener.extension.wisc.edu/article/spider-plant-chlorophytum-comosum/
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center. Factsheet HGIC 1513. March 15, 1999.
- Colorado State University Extension. Plant Talk Colorado. “1328-Spider Plant.” Accessed January 2021.
- University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science. The Green Mountain Gardener. “Easy Houseplants-Spider Plant.” Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus. University of Vermont. Accessed January 2021. https://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/spiderplant.html
- UF IFAS Gardening Solutions. Accessed January 2021. https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/houseplants/spider-plant.html