Plant Guide > Flowers > Jobs Tears flower

Jobs Tears flower

Job's Tears or Widow's Tears; Spiderwort

(Tradescantia Virginiana) Spiderwort family

Flowers - Purplish blue, rarely white, showy, ephemeral, 1 to 2 in. broad; usually several flowers, but more drooping buds, clustered and seated between long blade-like bracts at end of stem. Calyx of 3 sepals, much longer than capsule. Corolla of 3 regular petals; 6 fertile stamens, bearded; anthers orange; 1 pistil. Stem: 8 in. to 3 ft. tall, fleshy, erect, mucilaginous, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, long, blade-like, keeled, clasping, or sheathing stem at base. Fruit: 3-celled capsule.

Preferred Habitat - Rich, moist woods, thickets, gardens.

Flowering Season - May-August.

Distribution - New York and Virginia westward to South Dakota and Arkansas.

As so very many of our blue flowers are merely naturalized immigrants from Europe, it is well to know we have sent to England at least one native that was considered fit to adorn the grounds of Hampton Court. John Tradescant, gardener to Charles I, for whom the plant and its kin were named, had seeds sent him by a relative in the Virginia colony ; and before long the deep azure blossoms with their golden anthers were seen in gardens on both sides of the Atlantic another one of the many instances where the possibilities of our wild flowers under cultivation had to be first pointed out to us by Europeans.

Like its relative the day-flower, the spiderwort opens for part of a day only. In the morning it is wide awake and pert; early in the afternoon its petals have begun to retreat within the calyx, until presently they become "dissolved in tears," like job or the traditional widow. What was flower only a few hours ago is now a fluid jelly that trickles at the touch. Tomorrow fresh buds will open, and a continuous succession of bloom may be relied upon for a long season. Since its stigma is widely separated from the anthers and surpasses them, it is probable the flower cannot fertilize itself, but is wholly dependent on the female bees and other insects that come to it for pollen. Note the hairs on the stamens provided as footholds for the bees.

The plant is a cousin of the "Wandering Jew" (T. repens), so commonly grown either in water or earth in American sittingrooms. In a shady lane within New York city limits, where a few stems were thrown out one spring about five years ago, the entire bank is now covered with the vine, that has rooted by its hairy joints, and, in spite of frosts and blizzards, continues to bear its true-blue flowers throughout the summer.