November 4th, 2006
Callisia repens Mystery Weed

identify this plant

When I hear the ground abuzz this time of year I get down on my knees to confirm that my mystery weed is blooming.

Weed in the sense that I didn’t plant it and it grows where it will. And yet I’m quite happy to have it because it is a bright luscious green almost all year around, even in the worst of the heat and drought. It pales a bit in the heat but the slightest sprinkling of water reinvigorates it. In a freeze any part of it exposed will turn brown. But it comes right back again.

By structure and habit I would guess this is a kind of miniature wandering Jew (Tradescantia pallida). The juicy stalks are jointed the same way and it sprouts easily wherever you break a piece off and put it in the ground. It forms a dense mat four to six inches thick. And if you decide you don’t want it somewhere it’s easy to remove–the roots are very shallow.

identify this plant

Once you have it you will always have it. Where to get it. I don’t know. I don’t know where mine came from and I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

What is it?

Update: 2006-11-05, Mystery Solved!
Valerie at Larvalbug identifies my mystery weed as Callisia repens from a clump I gave her a couple of years ago. It is also known as Tradescantia minima which seems to be a very appropriate name since it’s like a miniature Tradescantia pallida. It is indeed part of the spiderwort family, Commelinaceae.

Flora of North America says it flowers in Texas in early spring but my experience is that it flowers in late autumn.

Hawaiin Ecosystems at Risk lists Callisia repens, or inch plant, as a plant of Hawaii and has a nice photo…although the leaves on mine are more closely spaced. In contrast, the Aggies have a photo which looks nothing like my plant; they give the common names Bolivian Jew or Turtle Vine and recommend it as a houseplant.

Several sites that list it a houseplant say it has purplish in the leaves and show leaves much more ovate than lanceolate. Mine are a bright chartreuse without a hint of purple even on the underside of the leaves.

by M Sinclair Stevens

5 Responses to post “Callisia repens Mystery Weed”

  1. From Annie in Austin:

    It looks a little like google images of Gibasis – Tahitian bridal veil, but there’s no scale in all these photos and spiderworty stuff is so similar. I have 3 different non-native plants in my yard that look related to yours – one is that Purple Setcreasia, plus two greener ones, but still not just like yours. And then there are the Commelinas and Tradescantia virgiana, which are indiginous to the Hill Country, maybe?

    I hope someone else knows for sure!


  2. From Pam/Digging (Austin):

    I just love seeing the bees working so diligently, filling their little pollen baskets. Good picture!

  3. From Julie (Austin):

    There’s something similar looking and behaving in my Austin garden — easily broken, easily rooted, with nice tiny white flowers. My best guess is tradescantia fluminensis, native of Argentina and Brazil. What do you think?

    Here’s a close up photo:

    I think the Tradescantia fluminensis is a larger leafed plant. The Floridata link says the T. fluminensis leaves are 1 to 2.5 inches long and that it is often confused with the smaller-leaved Callisia species. The largest leaves on the plant I have are about .75 inches. –mss

  4. From Annie in Austin:

    M, it’s cool that Valerie could ID your Callisia.

    I posted photos of my two mysterious tradescantians at the Transplantable Rose – they’re just a little different.

    Valerie is a wonder that way–especially with bugs. — mss

  5. From Craig:

    It is Callisia repens. Mine is also flowering now, the little stamens almost collared by white fuzz on elongated stems, so different than the leafy ones. The internodes (stem lengths between 2 nodes) will be shorter the brighter the light the plant receives, giving the appearance of a leafier and tighter looking plant. One of the characteristics I like is the texture of the leaf surface, as if it has been minutely window-paned. Mine came as a carry-along when a friend gave me another plant. I was not surprised to see it because he has been collecting many types of Wandering Jews ñ Callisia, Zebrina, Tradescantia, Cyanotus, Gibasis, Setcreasia, and probably more.

    Way too many years ago, I used to grow Siderasis. Also in the Commelinaceae, its leaves were very broad, velvety, and richly colored. The leaves were clustered in the center of the plant like a rosette, appearing almost stemless. The flowers were also large, pinkish-lavender, and in typical parts of three. It was quite the beauty.