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(Spiderwort family)


This family of about 500 species of monocotyledonous herbs in 38 genera occurs in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Several species, varieties, and cultivars are popularly grown as houseplants, especially those known as wandering jew (Tradescantia fluminensis Vell., T. albiflora Kunth, and Zebrina pendula Schnitzl.). The common spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana L.) is widely grown in gardens.

Irritant effects following contact with certain species have been described. Calcium oxalate raphides are thought to be responsible at least in part (Aplin 1981).

Amischotolype irritans I.M.Turner
[syn. Forrestia irritans Ridl.]

The specific epithet suggests that the plant has irritant properties.

Callisia fragrans Woodson
[syns Rectanthera fragrans O.Deg., Spironema fragrans Lindl.]
Basket Plant, Chain Plant, Fragrant Inch Plant, Inch Plant

Lee & Mason (2006) investigated a case of allergic contact dermatitis and anaphylaxis caused by contact with this plant in a Staffordshire bull terrier (Canis lupus subsp. familiaris Linnaeus).

Commelina polygama Roth

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Cyanotis lanata Benth.

This species is said to cause a sort of eczema of the muzzle of horses who browse amongst it (Dalziel 1937).

Cyanotis longifolia Benth.

This species can hyperaccumulate cobalt from soils rich in this element. A level of 4200 ppm of the dried plant material has been recorded (Malaisse et al. 1979). The contact sensitising capacity of cobalt and its salts is well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980).

Cyanotis tuberosa Schult.f.
Blue Velvet, Tuberous Cyanotis

Severe urticaria occurred from handling this plant (Behl & Captain 1979).

Siderasis fuscata H.E.Moore
[syns Pyrrheima fuscatum Backer, Tradescantia fuscata Lodd.]
Bears Ears, Brown Spiderwort

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Tradescantia L.

Biberstein (1927) observed delayed (48h) positive patch test reactions to an unidentified Tradescantia species (which was thought to be Tradescantia virginiana L.) in two adult females and a child. Dermatitis from handling the plants (Kirton 1974), which can affect the eyelids (Kaalund-Jørgensen 1951), may be allergic. Hjorth (1968) observed only one positive patch test reaction in over 46 patients tested. An irritant effect from calcium oxalate raphides in some species seems a possibility.

A form of contact dermatitis in dogs has been reported by Trevena et al. (1974) following contact with the wandering jew (an otherwise unidentified Tradescantia L. species).

Tradescantia pallida D.R.Hunt
[syns Setcreasea pallida Rose, Setcreasea purpurea Boom]
Purple Queen, Purple Heart

The juice of Setcreasea purpurea can produce an instant stinging red rash in gardeners. Those who carry the plant while shirtless can show an eruption on the body (Morton 1962a, Morton 1971).

Calcium oxalate raphide crystals, sharply pointed at both ends, measuring 100–150 µm in length and about 6 µm in width, were seen in the stems and leaves of this plant (Schmidt RJ 1983 — unpublished observation).

Tradescantia spathacea Sw.
[syns Rhoeo discolor Hance ex Walp., Rhoeo spathacea Stearn, Tradescantia discolor L'Hér.]
Boat Lily, Moses-in-the-Cradle, Moses-in-a-Basket, Moses-in-a-Boat, Oyster Plant, Purple-Leaved Spiderwort, Sabiuta Purpurie

The plant can produce irritation of the hands, mouth, eye, and respiratory tract. Handling, chewing, or weeding amongst the plants can produce these effects. The juice is used to colour the cheeks, its irritant effect producing erythema (Inman 1965, Morton 1962a, Morton 1971, Morton 1981).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Zebrina pendula Schnitzl.
[syns Tradescantia pendula D.R.Hunt, Zebrina flocculosa G.Brückn., Zebrina purpusii G.Brückn.]
Cockroach Grass, Creeping Jenny

In Florida, the watery sap is a frequent cause of skin inflammation, rash, small blisters, and itching (Morton 1981).


  • Aplin TEH (1981) Plants that cause dermatitis. Australasian Journal of Dermatology 22(1): 33-35 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Behl PN, Captain RM (1979) Skin-Irritant and Sensitizing Plants Found in India, 2nd edn. New Delhi: S Chand [WorldCat]
  • Biberstein H (1927) Überempfindlichkeit gegen Pflanzen (Sedum, Tradeskantia, Campanula, Meerzwiebel, Myrthe, Alpenveilchen, Buntnessel). [Hypersensitivity to plants (sedum, tradescantia, campanula, squill, myrtle, cyclamen, coleus)]. Zentralblatt für Haut- und Geschlechtskrankheiten 22(1/2): 19
  • Cronin E (1980) Contact Dermatitis. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone [WorldCat]
  • Dalziel JM (1937) The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa. Being an appendix to The Flora of West Tropical Africa by J. Hutchinson and J.M. Dalziel. London, UK: Crown Agents for the Colonies [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Hjorth N (1968) Personal communication to Mitchell JC. In: Mitchell J, Rook A (1979). Vancouver: Greengrass, p. 174 [WorldCat]
  • Inman A (1965) Notes on Some Poisonous Plants of Guam. Guam: U.S. Naval Hospital.
  • Kaalund-Jørgensen O (1951) Eczema perioculare. (Dermatitis of the eyelids). Acta Dermato-Venereologica 31(1): 83-90.
  • Kirton V (1974) Personal communication to Mitchell JC. In: Mitchell J and Rook A (1979) Botanical Dermatology. Plants and plant products injurious to the skin. Vancouver: Greengrass, p. 174.
  • Lee SE, Mason KV (2006) Immediate hypersensitivity to leaf extracts of Callisia fragrans (inch plant) in a dog. Veterinary Dermatology 17(1): 70-80 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Malaisse F, Grégoire J, Morrison RS, Brooks RR and Reeves RD (1979) Copper and cobalt in vegetation of Fungurume, Shaba Province, Zaïre. Oikos 33(3): 472-478.
  • Malten KE, Nater JP, van Ketel WG (1976) Patch Testing Guidelines. Nijmegen: Dekker & van de Vegt [WorldCat]
  • Morton JF (1962a) Ornamental plants with toxic and/or irritant properties. II. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 75: 484-491 [url] [url-2]
  • Morton JF (1971) Plants Poisonous to People in Florida and Other Warm Areas. Miami, FL: Hurricane House [WorldCat]
  • Morton JF (1981) Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America. Bahamas to Yucatan. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas [WorldCat]
  • Trevena BJ et al. (1974) Contact dermatitis of dogs associated with "wandering jew" plant (Tradescantia spp.). Control and Therapy (298). Cited by McBarron (1976)
  • [ + 2 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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