Tradescantia fluminensis is a species of spiderwort native to South America. It is one of several plants known by the common name wandering Jew. It is also known as small-leaf spiderwort, river spiderwort, inch plant, wandering trad, wandering willie, wandering gypsy.
Tradescantia fluminensis is a perennial ground cover that spreads along the ground with soft, hairless stems and leaves. The fleshy stems root at any node that is on the surface. The plant has oval, dark-green leaves with pointed tips that are shiny, smooth and slightly fleshy about 1.25 – 2.5 inches long. The flowers are white with three petals and approx. 0.5 – 1-inch in diameter. They are produced in small clusters in summer but do not produce seeds.
Tradescantia fluminensis is grown as a garden plant or houseplant in many places. Even in places where it is a pest it may be grown as a house plant in variegated forms. The plant requires a moist soil to do well but is retarded by cold climates, especially where there is frost or snow. It tolerates heavy shade. Because it requires moisture it grows weakly, if at all, in sunny areas that dry out for long periods. However, because it is a fleshy plant that retains water, it can withstand extended periods of dryness only to resume growth once better conditions return.
Invasion as a pest
Tradescantia fluminensis is considered an invasive species, noxious weed, or pest plant in many places and is consequently targeted for eradication. Seriously affected areas include Australia, New Zealand, and the southeastern United States.
It is classified as a Category 1b Invasive Species in South Africa, and thus in South Africa it may no longer be planted, propagated, or be allowed to disperse, and all trade in their seeds, cuttings or other propagative material is prohibited, in both rural and urban areas.
The seriously invasive qualities of T. fluminensis result from a combination of attributes. Forming a dense mat underneath forest tree cover to 12 inches (30 centimeters) or even more (facilitated by a remarkable shade tolerance) it smothers ground-level plants and prevents the natural regeneration of taller species and if left unchecked, it can lead to the destruction of native forests. Even where the climate does not permit T. fluminensis to take root, it still can spread rapidly from being transported by animals and humans and even strong winds. The succulent stems break easily at the nodes and establish themselves wherever they land on moist soil. While T. fluminensis does respond to herbicides and other applied weed controls, each segment has the ability to regenerate, so it is able to make a rapid comeback, especially in soft soils where stems may remain underneath the surface.
The plant is resistant to chemical control as a result of its glossy leaves and smooth stems, along with its ability to regenerate from small surviving pieces. Nevertheless, for large infested areas this is probably the only means of achieving control. Unfortunately, any chemical that is capable of killing the plant is likely to kill most other plants and so a clear area will result for a period of time. However, since there are treatments that rapidly degrade upon soil contact within a day, this effect is limited to the time that it takes for seeds of other species to germinate and establish themselves. Because of the waxy surface of leaves and stems, a penetrant is needed for effective treatment.
Successful treatments include the following:
- triclopyr or fluoroxypyr (marketed under various brand names) plus a penetrant such as the organosilicone called modified polydimethylsiloxane (e.g. Pulse)
Chemical treatment will result in browning off in 3–4 weeks followed by disappearance of living material. However, follow-up is needed several months later (in a frost free climate) to catch any buried plant segments that may have regenerated and possibly a third such spot treament is required before the area is completely eradicated and even after that attention to a resurgence is advised.
Repeated deployment of weed-control agents may have a negative effect upon the local environment, in which case the only option remaining is manual clearance. In areas where the plant is a pest this is an arduous task since every single scrap of the weed has to be removed or it will regrow. In less prolific areas, manual removal is less difficult as the plant roots come up easily, and an initial clearance can be accomplished by raking the area. Repeated efforts at intervals of a few months along with regular monitoring for invasion from neighbouring areas will be necessary for full control.
Combined chemical-manual control
In view of the persistence of the plant and the cost of chemical treatment plus the negative effect on other species, especially in regions where it is a pest, a combination of an initial chemical treatment followed by manual removal for the second or possibly third treatment is worth considering. Nevertheless, absolutely scrupulous attention to the removal of every single piece of the stems from both above and below the surface is required before elimination can be assured.
Small-scale control using livestock
There are anecdotal reports of using browsing animals (e.g. sheep) to control wandering Jew. Heavy stocking is suggested to ensure all the infestation is consumed, and as with other methods, ongoing monitoring is required to ensure no scraps of plant material have survived to re-infest the area.
- "Tradescantia fluminensis". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 14 December 2015.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Tradescantia fluminensis 'Quicksilver'". Retrieved 5 July 2013.
- Wolff, Mark A. (1999). Winning the war of Weeds: The Essential Gardener's Guide to Weed Identification and Control. Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-86417-993-6.
- MAF biosecurity New Zealand (2009). "MAF pest report on Wandering Willy". Retrieved 24 July 2010.
- Florida Exotic Plant Pest Council (2007). "Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's 2007 List of Invasive Plant Species". Retrieved 2008-07-14.
- Department of Primary Industries, Victoria (2011). "Impact Assessment – Wandering creeper (Tradescantia fluminensis) in Victoria". Retrieved 5 October 2011.
- Kelly, David; Skipworth, J. P. (1984). "Tradescantia fluminensis in a Manawatu (New Zealand) forest: I. Growth and effects on regeneration" (PDF). New Zealand Journal of Botany (Royal Society of New Zealand) 22: 393–397. doi:10.1080/0028825x.1984.10425270. ISSN 0028-825X. OCLC 1760278. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
- Lynne Mcanulty-Street (Tareha School Principal, 1993–1995) (7 June 2012). "Accidentally Gardening: Garden #6 – Kaweka ranges over Hawkes Bay".
[Wandering Jew] is like candy to sheep. Five cleared a dense overgrown patch in a week, and we watched them scraping the dirt to get at the underground runners. Five years later we went back and [none] had grown there since.
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