Tom's Blog

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spiderwort time

Spderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) is one of the prairie/savanna species that seems to do well in a wide variety of habitats. One of my favorite spiderwort habitats is the rocky ballast of the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, which follows U.S. Route 14 all the way from Middleton to Mazomanie (and beyond). It seems strange to see a beautifully flowering plant rising out of bare dry pebbles.

We had scattered patches of spiderwort along the steep bank of Pleasant Valley Road even before we started restoration, but by throwing seeds around we have managed to greatly increase the amount of this species. When the seeds are ready to collect (around 4th of July) we simply pull them from the stems and throw them uphill and to both sides. After a few years, we have managed to have spiderwort along the whole Pleasant Valley Road bank.

Spiderwort is found in a wide variety of habitats in Wisconsin, although it seems be absent in the far north of the state.

Photographing this species is a little tricky. Although the color of the flowers is an intense blue or purple, it's really hard to catch the color, especially with a digital camera. I was surprised when I looked in my viewfinder to see almost white flowers, even though with the naked eye they were blue. This is a species whose photos really benefit from the ministrations of a Photoshop-like program.

The seeds of spiderwort are held within a pulpy matrix, making them really difficult to dry properly. They dry best under forced warm dry air, but take almost a week for complete curing.

Spiderwort is a nice species to plant, as it is showy, establishes well, but never becomes invasive. We have it growing well in all of our planted prairies as well as the savannas.

One of our best native populations developed in Unit 18 after we cleared it of black walnut. The first year after the walnuts were gone a large population of spiderwort appeared, and has continued ever since. A check of the literature showed that spiderwort is resistant to juglone, the allelopathic chemical produced by black walnut. In fact, most of the monocots are resistant to juglone.

Another characteristic of spiderwort is its tendency to close its flowers as soon as the sun is shining. Thus, the best time to see and photograph this species is on a cloudy day, especially after a good rainfall.


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