The brown spiderwort's main attraction lies in its many-hued velvety leaves, writes Stephanie Choo
COMMONLY called brown spiderwort, this plant features gorgeous multi-hued leaves as the main attraction. Its fanciful dainty flowers that stand out against the dark foliage make the plant more interesting. It is easy to fall for such a rare beauty. You'll know why the plant is also known as bear ears when you touch its velvety leaves.
A native of east Brazil, brown spiderwort or bear ears is botanically named Siderasis fuscata (synonyms: Pyrrheima fuscatum, Tradescantia fuscata). It is the only species classed as a Siderasis and a member of the dayflower family or spiderwort family, Commelinaceae. Members of this family are flowering plants including species of Tradescantia which Siderasis fuscata has some resemblance to and was once placed in this genus.
Unlike Tradescantias, S. fuscata does not trail. Instead, it forms thick, short clumping rosette of fuzzy, broad, oblong, olive-green leaves with an irregular-shaped silvery mid-stripe. These leaves grow to 20cm long and 8cm wide. The underside is purplish-red.
Its bluish-purple three-petal flowers are about 2.5cm across and they grow in small clusters from the crown of the stemless plant on petite hairy peduncles. They have separate sepals and petals and six white stamens with glabrous filaments.
PLANT TO TOUCH
The whole plant is covered densely with soft rusty-brown hairs. While these hairs protect the plant, they are also fun to touch. They feel furry, as if touching animal ears, like the name implies!
PLANT TO BEHOLD
In addition to the texture, the coloured foliage is also incredibly appealing. In shades of red, brown, purple and green, the shrub makes a beautiful accent plant and due to its unique appearance, can be a cool conversation piece.
PLANT GOES DORMANT
This perennial herb, however, requires patience and attention to grow successfully. It is a slow grower and has a rather strange growth cycle. The pot of S. fuscata that I have been growing in my garden for a few years is still about the same size as when I first planted it.
It was hard to tell if the shrub was growing happily in the beginning. The foliage turned brown and dried out soon after it flowered for the first time. That got me pushing the panic button. Consequently, I watered the plant carefully and only when the surface of the soil felt dry to the touch that new leaves started to unfurl from the centre of the dried rosette. The wilted plant was not dead!
As it turns out, each time after flowering, it has a tendency to stop growing temporarily for some time before it sends out new leaves and blooms again.
HOW TO GROW
In the wild, S. fuscata thrives in the tropical forest understory. So cultivate the plant as it is in its natural environment.
Settle it in warm, partial shade locations and away from direct sunlight. The best spot for the plant is where it receives bright filtered light and is sheltered from the rain.
The plant grows well in pots and a small standard 15cm pot will suffice. Use well-draining soil mix and water regularly to ensure soil is evenly moist but not soggy. Water less when the plant goes dormant.
Feed plant with any balanced fertiliser. Propagate by division. Discard dead or dried leaves when necessary to keep plant looking its best.