Purple Heart or Setcreasea pallida

Purple Heart or Setcreasea pallida

Purple Heart is an easy to grow, pretty plant that has a variety of uses.  It’s purple and pink toned foliage and trailing stems makes it a good “filler” or “spiller” in containers or hanging baskets.  It makes a good houseplant too.  The purple foliage tones go particularly well when combined with golden leaved plants.  Setcreasea pallida is also known as Tradescantia pallida in older references and common names include spider plant (we have far too many plants named this) and purple spiderwort.

In its native Mexico Purple Heart is a rather invasive ground cover and it can perform that function here too.  It’s only hardy to planting zone 7 and then only when well protected.  But since it grows rapidly gardeners in colder zones could plant it in spring for good ground cover by mid-summer. 

Purple Heart is purchased as a plant.  Seed is almost never produced or available but the plant is very easy to start from cuttings.   The stems of Purple Heart are succulent and sprawling, with prominent leaf joints, up to 18 inches long, and are purple or violet in color.  The leaves clasp the stem and are narrow and pointed.  Leaves range in color from purple to pink and may be variegated in various colors of pink, purple, violet and lavender.  Color of the foliage is best in brighter light conditions.  Tiny, pink flowers appear on branch tips occasionally.

Care of Purple Heart

Purple Heart is extremely forgiving of most conditions and most gardeners should have no trouble growing it- and sharing it with friends.  It will grow in full sun or partial shade. In the house Purple Heart should have bright light conditions to keep the plant from getting spindly.  It likes even, regular watering, but its succulent characteristics make it able to survive short dry conditions.  Containers or soil that Purple Heart is planted in should be well draining, because too moist conditions will rot the roots and stems. If you want even more abundant, rapid growth give it a light feeding of all-purpose garden fertilizer several times a year.

Purple Heart has few insect or disease problems although it may be eaten by slugs and snails outside. Purple Hearts biggest drawback is its succulent stems which break off easily.  They grow back quickly in good conditions but it makes the plant a chore to move or transplant.  You’ll want to keep it out of windy areas or places where it is frequently bumped.  You can pinch off the tips of long shoots to make the plant branch more, but the shorter plant stems are still quick to snap off.   Prune it to any length you need to keep it out of the way.

Purple Heart will root incredibly easily so all of those broken stems and pinched off tips don’t need to be wasted.  Stick them in a pot of moist soil, with at least one leaf joint under the soil and you should have plants to share in no time.  Instead of bringing in a large plant for the winter you may want to bring in cuttings.  Be aware when handling Purple Heart stems that some people get mild rash/reaction from the fluid that leaks out.

As a plant that grows easily and can be shared easily too, Purple Heart is a winner for containers outside or a trailing houseplant inside.

1 comment:

  1. Handle with care. Sap causes itchy rash when exposed to skin. Wash area with soap and water. Dry and apply Calamine lotion to help it heal.