Some landscapers consider the spiderwort an intrusive weed, though European gardeners welcome the New World native into the landscape of their formal gardens. But there is much more to the wild flower than its silent, unassuming beauty.
Awakened yearly by a mixture of April showers, cool wet and windy days, interspersed with warm and sweet hours of calm, sunshine and bliss, spiderwort have been making their presence known for some weeks. Spiderwort bears no connection to Miss Muppet’s fanciful friend who sat down beside her, nor does this plant possess any of a spider’s web spinning abilities. It appears to be so named because its skinny, long narrow drooping leaves resemble the legs of a squatting spider supporting a center clustering of small, but showy, violet-blue, three-petaled flowers, their stamen hearts sprinkled in a dusting of gold. When its stem is broken, the plant’s sap also forms long filaments that resemble a spider’s silk. Native Americans used a poultice made by crushing spiderwort leaves to treat insect stings and bites.
The plant’s blossoms remain open into the morning light, but quickly melt when faced with the brightness of the noon sun. Spiderwort aroused the fascination of scientists who discovered that whenever the plant’s petals become exposed to ionizing radiation they quickly shift into a pink warning mode, a kind of natural Geiger counter. It’s nature’s way of reminding us that there’s mystery beneath her beauty.