FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Tradescantia x ‘Sweet Kate’ is a compact clumping perennial spiderwort cultivar. Plants are graced by narrow pointed chartreuse-yellow leaves. In late spring, foliage is topped by small clusters of dark violet florets. This unique wildflower thrives in sunny gardens with average soil.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: This cultivar was a chance seedling that popped up under an apple tree in the garden of Hazel Stevens in Sevenoaks, Kent, England. Mrs. Stevens contacted Hillier Nurseries who collected the specimen, propagated and marketed it. She named it ‘Sweet Kate’ for her golden haired daughter Katy. Instead of paying a royalty, Mrs. Stevens asked that Hillier donate to a charity that cared for airmen badly burned in World War II.
The cultivar is considered by many go be in the Andersoniana Group which are hybrids of Tradescantia virginiana, T. subaspera and T. ohiensis.
Plants are hardy in USDA Zones 5-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Tradescantia x ‘Sweet Kate’ grows in clumps that originate from thick fleshy roots and rhizomes.
Stems are green and smooth with alternate linear foliage. Each blade is entire with a pointed tip and a base that wraps around the stems. The blades have parallel veins and tend to droop toward the tip. Blades are bright yellow in sunny sites and more chartreuse in part shade.
From spring until fall plants bear small clusters of terminal 1.5” flowers. The blooms are deep purplish-blue with three rounded petals and bright yellow anthers supported by feathery violet filaments. The blooms are ephemeral – opening in the morning and closing during bright sunny afternoons.
After flowering, seed capsules mature splitting into 3 segments and releasing small brown seed.
Plants are 1’ tall with an equal spread.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Tradescantia x ‘Sweet Kate’ grows best in partly sunny or partly shady sites. Hot afternoon sun may scald the leaves.
This versatile wildflower prospers in moist or dry loamy, clay, gravelly, sandy acidic soils or average garden soil. Plants also tolerate some drought after establishment.
This species is fairly pest resistant but is occasionally nibbled by slugs and by deer and other herbivores.
In warm regions, this spiderwort may go dormant during the summer. It is wise to pair them with late blooming perennials that can fill in the gaps.
Deadheading often stimulates re-blooming.
LANDSCAPE USES: Tradescantia x ‘Sweet Kate’ will brighten a Shade Gardens or Rock Garden. Small Groups or Masses of plants offer Attractive Foliage and Showy Flowers. This cultivar is a useful for Cottage Gardens, Low Maintenance Plantings, Meadows, Perennial Borders, Rain Gardens and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: Tradescantia x ‘Sweet Kate’ mingles cheerfully with Asclepias incarnata, Chrysogonum virginianum, Eupatorium perfoliatum, Penstemon digitalis, Rudbeckia hirta and Schizachyrium scoparium.
Tradescantia ohiensisis ‘Mrs. Loewer’ could be substituted in some garden situations.
TRIVIA: Flowers are pollinated by bumblebees. Other bees, flies and butterflies visit the flowers as well. Deer, Rabbits, Box Turtles, and some livestock nibble the foliage.
This hybrid is part of the Commelinaceae or Dayflower Family. The flowers of Tradescantia spp. open in the morning and close in the strong afternoon sun. On hot afternoons the flowers morph into a violet colored jelly.
Also known as Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate’ or by the cultivar name 'Blue and Gold'.