Spiderwort and Rustweed
Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director
It is said that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but what if that rose was called spiderwort? Surely, one would have reservations about handling a plant with such a name, regardless of how beautiful its flowers may be.
The same holds true for rustweed–what maiden would swoon over a bouquet of anything with a name like that? Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what about the ear?
Tradescantia ohiensis, the scientific name for spiderwort, is an herbaceous native plant. Its most striking feature, which makes it easily identifiable, is the cluster of bright purplish-blue blooms which are currently on display.
To the casual listener, the name spiderwort implies an arachnid with a complexion problem. Far from it, but the terminology is shrouded in agriculture and horticulture history.
The term wort, in its various forms, can be traced back to northern Europe for well over 1,000 years. Its meaning related at first to herbs, then to plants without bark or hard stems.
The spider part of the name relates to the flowers petals. In harsh sunlight, the spiderworts petals are reduced to fine threads similar to a spider’s web.
Spiderworts are often seen along fence rows, in pastures and untended fields, and in forested areas. They bloom from late spring to early summer and usually grow in clumps or bunches of plants.
The plant clumps are easily separated and transplanted. The spiderwort has been used in ornamental horticulture as a showy low-cost alternative for many years.
They expand their presence in the wild slowly, but persistently. Since there are no herbicides labeled for their control, they are considered a pest species by some hay producers.
Another plant with a curious name, and which is considered a pest, is the rustweed (Polypremum procumbens). While it does not literally rust, it gets its name from its rust-colored foliage in the autumn.
In spring and summer, this low growing perennial is green and easily blends with bermudagrass and other turfs. Tiny white blooms will confirm its presence, but is often overlooked in landscapes.
This plant spreads by seed, which are small and heart-shaped. One means of colonizing new areas is by seed lodging in mowing and other equipment, then depositing in new areas when the equipment is relocated.
As with all grasses in Wakulla County, rustweed is found only in sunny areas. This little-known plant is an area native, but also occurs as far away as South America.
This aggressive native will quickly establish itself and push out other more desirable species. Mowing will not slow its progress.
Obscure as they may be, the names do denote specific activity. At least it is not rustwort and spiderweed, which invoke entirely different images.
To learn more about weeds in Wakulla County, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/.