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Ohio Spiderwort: Saving the Morning in the Late Spring Garden

Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) is in full bloom around my house right now.  Native throughout the eastern U.S., Ohio spiderwort is a beautiful, blue, graceful, easy plant to grow. I especially appreciate the timing of when this plant blooms: late spring, a time in the garden when not many other native flowers are blooming.   This late spring/early summer break in flowers used to really bug me, “What the heck’s going on?!  I’m trying to plant a full-time, blooming pollinator garden here!” I would shout to myself, walking around the garden.  That is, until I planted a bunch of Ohio spiderwort.  

Ohio spiderwort's flowers and foliage
Ohio spiderwort’s foliage is a pretty addition to the garden.

Each flower of Ohio spiderwort opens for just one day, usually just one morning.  On a hot day around here, they’ll be closed by noon.  So if you have a busy work schedule, and are only in the garden in the evenings, they might not be the best choice for your garden -unless maybe you can have your coffee outside in the morning.  Fact is, they bloom during one of the best times of year to have your coffee outside in the morning.  And they are edible, so you can garnish your breakfast, or your coffee, just for fun.  

Ohio spiderwort flowers in coffee!
Beautiful flowers in my coffee. I feel like this picture might give the impression that sometimes I sit and luxuriously enjoy something like this. In the interest of
honesty, I feel I should add that I have small children, and this type of spa drink is not a reality in my life. But I hope you can sit and enjoy something like this.

Bumblebees collecting pollen are reported to be Ohio spiderwort’s most important pollinators, but it’s also visited by quite small solitary bees (Halictine bees), and syrphid flies (including some common non-native varieties).  Interestingly, these flowers don’t produce any nectar!  And as far as I can see, in my garden, they are definitely not wildly popular with pollinators, but I suppose they are getting by as best they can.

Ohio spiderwort visited by a syrphid fly.

It seems there’s not a huge amount of scientific interest in the pollination ecology of Ohio spiderworts (or at least I couldn’t find it!), so there’s really not too much information on species of bumblebee visitors, pollination in flowers without nectaries, selfing vs. cross pollination, seed set, etc, etc. But for me, this flower raises many questions -first being, why bloom just one day?? If you’re going to the trouble to make a flower, what advantage is there to an ephemeral flower? If anyone knows, please let me know!

If you have also found  late spring/early summer  to be a bit low on flowers, there are a few plants that can help.  Over the last couple years, focusing on planting the following flowers has really helped the garden, and helped me walk through the garden more peacefully during this time of year.

Helpful Flowers

Wild blue indigo, Baptisia australis visited by  a dragonfly

Blue wild indigo
Baptisia australis

Bradbury's monarda , Monarda bradburiana

Brabury’s monarda
Monarda bradburiana

Shining bluestar, Amsonia spp. visited by a fuzzy bumblebee

Shining bluestar
Amsonia illustris

Golden alexanders, Zizia aurea visited by a wasp

Golden Alexanders
Zizia aurea

Annual fleabane, Erigeron annuus

If you have any favorite natives not listed here, that bloom in late spring, please let me know!

Resources:

Ohio spiderwort, Illinois Wildflowers

Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants, by Heather Holm

The Native Plant Podcast

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