Pretty, purple, and practically indestructible


If you ask The Southern Living Garden Book to point you toward a hardy plant with a stunning color payoff, it will send you straight to purple heart plant. Also known as Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart,' it's a beautiful, hardy perennial with long, trailing stems that resemble rambling vines. Purple hearts are most often found planted in pots or displayed in hanging baskets. They're aptly named, as their foliage appears in silvery purple and violet hues.

Tradescantia species are perennials in the family Commelinaceae. Tradescantia pallida ‘Purple Heart' used to be known as Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart' and it is sometimes also called purple queen. Purple heart is native to Mexico grows to heights of 1 to 1½ feet tall and wide. Its purple leaves are long and oval-shaped, and it produces small purple flowers during the summer months.

Growing Purple Heart Plant

The Southern Living Garden Book explains, "Types grown as houseplants should be given bright indirect light and kept fairly moist; feed them with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer twice a month from spring through fall, once a month in winter." While it is drought tolerant, when planted outdoors purple heart grows best with regular water and a balance of full sun and light shade.

Invasive Tendencies

While these plants are popular for pots and hanging baskets, because of their hardiness they are also sometimes employed as ground cover plantings. If used as a ground cover, Tradescantia pallida species should be approached with caution. That's because the most vigorous types can become invasive. Be sure to choose a less rambling type and be an attentive gardener to keep it corralled in your yard. Deer usually ignore these plants and aren't known to browse them in the garden.

Other Tradescantia Species

Beyond purple heart plant, other Tradescantia species are also popular plantings in the region. Tradescantia pallida ‘Variegata' produces striped pink-and-red foliage. It can be used in pots or as ground cover, and it thrives in full sun with moderate water. T. spathacea (Rhoeo spathacea) has sword-shaped purple-and-green foliage. T. virginiana, a Southern classic, is also known as spiderwort. Its foliage has a grassy appearance, and it produces short-lived flowers in a rainbow of shades, many of which bloom for only one day.

Do you have any purple heart plants in your garden? What are your favorite plants for pots and hanging baskets?