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Why you shouldn’t use the term “Wandering Jew”

houseplants in a corner

A favourite of households everywhere for its beautiful appearance, the Tradescantia zebrina is more than a common house plant. While some people may still know it by its derogatory name “wandering jew” it is very important to understand why this name should not be used anymore. What once was a common name for this plant, has long since has gone by the wayside. Taking the time to properly educate yourself on the history behind this plant will help create a more inclusive, safe and culturally aware plant community.

What is the Tradescantia zebrina?

This houseplant can be kept in a contained pot or hung in a hanging planter to show off its long vines. If not contained, this plant can spread very quickly and can become invasive, which is why this plant is best kept indoors. However, it is very low maintenance, which is why people love it so much. This plant needs a decent amount of light and be watered regularly, but it can still survive if you forget to water it (we all forget sometimes).

plants sitting beside window

What is the history behind the name?

The reason many people disagree with the name is because of the anti-semitic origins of the term; a term which is clearly intended to discriminate against Jewish people.

The term is believed to have originated in a medieval European folk story about a mythical Jewish man who mocked Jesus and was forced to wander the earth until the apocalypse. This story was created and told to shine a negative light on Jewish people, which is why it is important that this name is not referred to anymore.

Then what should I call it?

  • You can call it by its traditional name the Tradescantia zebrina
  • Some call it the wandering dude
  • Other names for it are Inch Plant
  • Or Spiderwort

After learning about the history of this term, let’s do better and retire the name for good, and make sure the plant community is inclusive to all.

Want to be a part of the conversations we have about this, houseplants in general, and gardening? Join one of our Facebook groups to talk with fellow green thumbs to learn more about the community and how to be a happy and helpful plant parent.

Some other helpful articles about this topic that we’ve referenced:

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