The wandering Jew, or Tradescantia zebrina, is a succulent. It is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America, and is typically incorporated into a garden as a ground cover.
One of the main reasons this plant is so popular is because of its lovely foliage. Its leaves have deep purple-colored undersides, while the tops have greenish-blue or silvery-gray stripes.
Because it is native to tropical rainforests, it differs from most succulents in that it is better adapted to moist and shady places.
In this article, we will discuss more of this plant and how to properly care for it. So, if you want to learn more about it before adding it to your garden, just keep reading.
What is the wandering Jew?
The wandering Jew, or Tradescantia zebrina, is a succulent plant native to Mexico and parts of Central and South America. There are other Tradescantia species that are also called wandering Jew, but the zebrina variety is what the common name typically refers to.
This plant is low-maintenance and grows very fast, which is why it is often used as a ground cover in gardens. It is also grown as an indoor plant by many people, because of its beautiful foliage with zebra-like stripes.
Is the wandering Jew a succulent?
Yes, the wandering Jew is a succulent. Even though it is native to rainforests and prefers a more moist and shadier setting than most succulents, it still shares many succulent characteristics.
Its stems and leaves are fleshy and can store water for use in the event of drought. Although it likes moist soil, it is also quite sensitive to overwatering and can even get root rot if the problem is not resolved in time. We will discuss more about root rot later in this article.
Wandering Jew plant care
Most succulents like full sunlight, especially those that are native to hot, dry regions of the world. Even if you keep those succulents indoors, you still need to provide them with lots of light, be it right next to a window or by using grow lights to supplement their light requirements.
The wandering Jew, however, is native to rainforests and grows close to the ground, so it is used to getting only the dappled sunlight that filters through the forest tree canopy. It is best for the plant if you simulate this wherever you are growing it.
This means you should provide the plant with bright, indirect light. If you are growing it outdoors, make sure the plant is under the shade of a large tree or near the side of a building. This gives it several hours of shade throughout the day.
If you are growing the plant indoors, you can still place it near a window, as long as it is a north- or east-facing window. These windows let in the weakest light that will not burn your plant. If the only windows available in your home let in harsh light, you can diffuse the light with a sheer curtain.
Be observant of the plant’s reactions to the light it receives. If its leaves are turning yellow or brown and becoming crispy, it might be that the plant is getting too much light. Transfer it to a shadier spot as soon as possible.
If the plant’s leaves are becoming pale and droopy, this could be because it is not getting as much light as it needs. It could also become leggy. In this case, transfer the plant to where it can get a little more light.
The wandering Jew likes its soil a little moister than the typical succulent. This is because it is used to growing in the rainforest where the soil is perpetually moist, but never really waterlogged either.
An underwatered wandering Jew will have dry leaves, and soil in its pot will be bone-dry. A rainforest plant does not do well in such conditions.
If you think your plant is underwatered, water it immediately, making sure to soak all of the soil in the pot so that all the roots get their fair share of water.
An overwatered wandering Jew, on the other hand, will have droopy leaves that have turned yellow or brown. Instead of their usual rigid structure, the overwatered leaves will feel soft and mushy to the touch.
A serious consequence of overwatering is root rot. This is when the plant’s roots are left to stand in perpetually soggy soil and never given the chance to dry out between waterings.
In these conditions, the roots will drown and start to rot. The dead roots will become susceptible to opportunistic pathogens in the soil, such as fungi and bacteria. These pathogens will make the rot more aggressive and cause it to spread faster to the rest of the plant, possibly even leading to the plant’s death.
If you think your plant is overwatered, stop watering it and let the soil in the pot dry out completely. Place the plant in a sunny spot to help the soil and the roots dry out faster.
If you suspect root rot in your plant, you will need to remove it from the pot to check the roots. Gently wash the soil from the roots; they will be fragile in this state. Inspect the roots for sections that have turned brown or black. These are rotten and you should remove them with a sterile knife or pair of scissors, so that only healthy, white roots remain.
Lay the plant on dry paper towels to let the roots dry.
Choose a new pot that has drainage holes at the bottom and fill it two-thirds with fresh potting mix. Place the plant in the middle of the pot and cover the roots with more soil.
Water the soil until it is properly moist, and return the plant to a spot where it can get bright, indirect light.
Unlike most succulents, the wandering Jew can do well in slightly denser soil, as long as it is still able to drain the excess water.
Make sure that your pot also has sufficient drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to drain out easily if you happen to accidentally overwater the plant, or if the plant gets a little too much rain when kept outdoors.
Do not let the soil dry out completely, because the plant’s roots like the soil to be a bit moist at all times.
The wandering Jew can tolerate temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If the plant is left outside in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods, this can have detrimental effects and may even lead to the plant’s death.
The ideal temperature for the plant is anywhere between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It is much easier to maintain this range when the plant is kept indoors, but as long as you remember to bring it indoors when the temperatures dip below 50 degrees, you will have no problem growing it outdoors, either.
Based on the native habitats of the wandering Jew, it is easy to deduce that this plant is a big fan of humidity.
It is important for it to get the same kind of humidity levels wherever it is grown. If the air is a little dry in your house, you can help the plant out by misting it every once in a while with some water.
You can also use a water pebble tray. Place the plant’s pot on top of this tray and, as the water evaporates, it will moisten the plant’s leaves and the soil inside the pot.
You can also group the plant near other humidity-loving plants, so that together they can create a microclimate around themselves.
Or, if you have the means, you can purchase a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity levels in the room, so that you do not have to worry about it.
You can fertilize your wandering Jew once a month during its growing season in the spring and summer. Refrain from feeding it during winter.
Do not start fertilizing the plant until two years after it was initially planted or repotted. This is because the fresh soil used when planting or repotting will have enough nutrients and minerals to provide for the plant, so it will not need fertilization for some time.
Repotting the wandering Jew
Just like other plants, the wandering Jew needs to be repotted when it gets too a little too big for its pot, and if its roots have started to grow out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
This plant does tend to grow fast; however, because its lifespan is only two or three years, you are not likely to end up repotting it too many times.
How to propagate the wandering Jew using stem cuttings
The parent plant from which you remove the cuttings should be very healthy and have several stems to choose from. Use a sterile knife or pair of scissors to cut off the stems, making sure that each cutting is at least three inches long.
Remove the leaves close to the base of the cutting. This is important because if you bury any leaves in the soil, they will rot and this is not healthy for the growing plant.
Place the cutting into a container of fresh potting soil that has been watered thoroughly beforehand.
You can place a plastic bag over the container to increase the humidity, but make sure you remove the plastic bag every time you water the cutting to let it breathe.
Place the container in a spot where it can get bright, indirect light.
After a few weeks, the cutting will have sprouted roots and they should be well-established. You can check this by giving the cutting a gentle tug. If you feel resistance, it means the roots are anchored in the soil and you can now transfer the plant to a bigger pot and care for it as you would a regular plant.
Does a wandering Jew produce flowers?
Yes, the wandering Jew produces flowers, but this is more likely to happen when the plant is grown outdoors. Indoor wandering Jews very rarely produce flowers, if at all.
How long is a wandering Jew’s lifespan?
You can expect this plant to live for an average of three years. Past three years, the plant’s quality of life will start to dramatically decrease and if you want to continue having it in your garden, you will need to propagate it.
The two most common pests observed on wandering Jew plants are spider mites and aphids. The bigger the infestation, the more damage these pests will cause, such as leaf drop.
Both of these pests feed on the sap from the foliage of the plant, and the places where they bite into the leaves will have little, dark brown spots. They also leave honeydew on the plant which is a tell-tale sign of their presence.
The honeydew can also attract other insects to the plant, which can then cause even more damage.
Aphids reproduce at a rapid rate and prefer dry, warm environments, so regular misting of the plant can help prevent them.
You can use a strong stream of water to knock the pests off your plant. Just make sure to keep the plant away from your other plants while you do this, because this can easily cause the pests to spread.
It can be a bit difficult to spot an infestation in its early stages; when the pests become noticeable, the infestation is probably full-blown.
You can also spray rubbing alcohol on the affected parts of the plant to kill the pests. Or, if you have neem oil, you can apply it directly on the affected areas with a cotton swab.
Repeat the process every three days until you are sure that all of the pests have been eradicated.
The wandering Jew, or Tradescantia zebrina, is a succulent. It is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. It is a low-growing, low-maintenance plant that is used as ground cover in many gardens. These plants are popular due to the beautiful colors of their leaves and the fact that they grow very fast and can cover areas at a rapid rate.
To keep the wandering Jew happy, you need to provide it with bright, indirect light, just like it would get in the rainforests to which it is native.
The plant’s soil should be a little bit moist all the time, but never soggy.
The ideal temperature for this plant is between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fertilize it once a month during the spring and summer, and refrain from feeding it during the winter.
The common pests to watch out for are aphids and spider mites. Get rid of these pests by knocking them off the plant with a strong stream of water, spraying the plant with rubbing alcohol, or applying neem oil directly on the affected areas of the plant.
Image: istockphoto.com / Jamaludin Yusup