Tradescantia boliviana

Johannes Ulrich Urban
Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:48:31 PDT
Dear All,

Good to hear that some people seem to grow this plant from the seed I 
donated to the BX last year. I had the impression that it was not very 
sought after. There is plenty of more fresh seed which I could send to 
the BX if this would be of interest.

Tradescantia boliviana was found just outside the village of Comarapa in 
Bolivia at an elevation around 2000m. It grew on the roadside in long 
drifts and was in full flower in the morning when I left Comarapa 
towards Siberia. At first glace it looked like our native Lythrum 
salicaria but at closer look it clearly was a Commelinaceae, bright 
pink. On my way back in the evening it was barely visible because the 
flowers had closed in the early afternoon.

Comarapa lies in the eastern Andes in Bolivia in the Province of Santa 
Cruz and receives moderate summer rain with a marked dry season when 
temperatures are cooler. As I was there in the southern hemispere summer 
(February 2002) which is the rainy season I cannot tell how cold it 
might become in winter and I have no records about the crop plants grown 
in gardens of Comarapa. Crop plants like Bananas or Avocado are good 
indicators of frost free growing conditions. I do remember, though, that 
in other places at similar elevation there were growing frost tender 
plants. Comarapa area is very cultivated, the remains of the natural 
vegetation are cacti of small and medium size and shrubs, a few trees 
where it was moister. Woody plants were probably deciduus but were in 
leaf and flower when I was there. The whole area looked rather dry but 
the soil seemed to be a fertile deep loam, prone to erosion. This 
habitat is very rich in Cacti and Geophytes.

The plant was propagated by a handful of cuttings which rooted easily 
and which were grown on in my greenhouse at first and then brought 
outside for the first summer. At that time I was not aware it was a 
tuberous plant. Only when it suddenly decided to die down in autumn I 
discovered that the whole pot was a solid mass of fleshy thick roots. I 
kept it dry and dormant and for sure frost free until next spring when 
it started into growth very quickly after it was warm enough and after 
watering. The plants in Comarapa grew in full Bolivian sun at 2000m 
elevation so I gave the plant the sunniest spot in my garden. It has 
proved a reliable floriferous plant for more than 10 years now and is 
one of my favourite Commelinaceae. If grown in insufficient light it 
will lose character and scramble on the ground instead of being an 
upright plant. I gave it to many people, a friend of mine who is a 
trained gardener lost his plant during one winter because of residual 
moisture in the plastic pot. When he noticed the rotting it was to 
late.  His plant was of course replaced. His experience made me grow my 
own plant in a large clay pot as root balls in clay pots do dry out 
completely quite opposed to large plastic containers . It has become 
bigger and bigger every year and the roots now completely fill a 15 
litre clay pot.

Although the plant is very floriferous and visited by many insects and 
produces seed abundantly every year, I have never ever so far found a 
spontaneous seedling. Neither in the open garden nor in the pots of 
other plants. Many plants self seed into other pots in my garden and 
greenhouse but never T. boliviana. I have never sown any seed of it so I 
am glad to hear that the seed is viable. It is difficult to predict but 
I would not worry about it becoming invasive in a  climate which has wet 
and cold or frosty conditions in winter. Myself I have never tried to 
leave a plant outside in the open garden in winter, I think it will not 
make it. Mine is always kept very dry but frost free in my cellar until 
May. As it is propagated easily you could try a spare plant outside in 
your winter.

Only a few years  ago, long after I found T. boliviana I learned that 
this species was described very recently. So I had "discovered" a new 
species  without knowing.....

Hope that helps,


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