This fast-spreading ground cover appeared in our garden about fifteen years ago. I suspect it came from the neighbouring garden, for it first appeared on our side of the dividing wall between us. At first it spread through the shady part of that bed, then ‘jumped’ the path and continued its relentless journey onwards and outwards. Within only a year or two it had completely covered what I call my shady ‘secret garden’ and has since spread into nooks and crannies all over the garden.
Of course it is great to have a ground cover that does not seem too perturbed by either drought or very cold weather. One might argue that having the spiderwort, Tradescantia zebrina is better than leaving the ground bare. It is not unattractive either: The leaves have purple undersides and the upper side has light and dark green – even silvery – stripes.
This import, originally hailing from Mexico is named after John Tradescant (1608-1662), who served as gardener to Charles I of England and, I imagine, the zebrina relates to zebra stripes. The small flowers have a lavender-pinkish hue and bloom intermittently throughout the year, usually unfolding one at a time in the morning and closing during the afternoon.
Unfortunately, this invasive weed is a particular problem in the Eastern Cape, where it has a tendency to invade moist, shaded sites, disturbed forests and stream banks. In my garden it doesn’t seem to mind if the light is bright or dappled – or even deeply shaded. While one can more or less keep it under control in a drought-stricken garden such as mine, a real problem arises when these plants get a hold in natural forests or in the veld – I have seen some growing along the edge of town as a result of the indiscriminate tossing away of garden debris.