What is a Purple Heart Plant?

J.M. Densing

The purple heart plant is a perennial plant with deep true purple foliage and pale purplish pink flowers. It is used both in gardens and as a houseplant. Some other nicknames for this plant are Wandering Jew and purple queen. There are two scientific names that refer to this plant, Tradescantia pallida and Setcreasea pallida. The plant is native to Mexico and prefers a warm climate. It is a fairly easy plant to care for and is enjoyed by many gardeners for its unusual color.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

A fairly low growing plant, the purple heart plant typically grows to a height of about 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) and spreads out to a width of about 12 to 36 inches (30 to 91 cm). The stems either grow upright or in a trailing manner along the ground; they are purple, fleshy and they break easily. The leaves have a deep purple color with a shape like a spear, and they are usually about one inch (2.5 cm) wide and six to seven inches (15 to 18 cm) long and with a smooth texture. The small flowers are a pale pink color tinged with purple, with three petals, and they bloom for most of the summer.

The native area of the purple heart plant is Mexico, from the Yucatan to Tamaulipas. It prefers a warm climate and can be grown as an outdoor perennial in areas with mild winters and little to no frost. In areas with colder climates it can be grown as an annual or as an indoor house plant. In gardens, it is often used for groundcover, rock gardens, containers, and hanging baskets. The purple color can provide a striking and enjoyable contrast with surrounding plants.

The maintenance requirements of the purple heart plant are fairly low. It needs to be planted in good quality soil that drains well. The plant should be watered on a regular basis, but not saturated, and the soil can be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. It can tolerate short periods without water. During the growing season, the purple heart plant should be fertilized approximately once a month with water soluble fertilizer.

The purple heart plant grows best and produces a more vivid purple color when it is planted in full sun, although it will still grow in partial shade. The leaves and stems can cause minor irritation in people with sensitive skin, so caution should be used in handling the plant, particularly any broken stems. The purple heart plant can be propagated using cuttings, and it usually takes root easily as long as the stem nodes are planted in the soil.

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Discussion Comments


Most of my yard is in full sun all day long, so it is difficult for me to find plants that can withstand the summer heat. Purple heart plants are tough enough to do this, and I even think they like the extreme temperatures.

The label on the pot at the garden center said that they preferred full sun, and that is exactly what I gave them. They have done so well here, while so many other plants have shriveled up and died.

I have noticed one peculiar thing about them. Their little pink flowers close up around noon. They are wide open all morning long, but they go to sleep for the afternoon.


@kylee07drg – It should do fine where you live. Purple heart plants can do well in zones 8 through 11.

I live in Zone 8, and I have had success with them here. I love how they reach out and cover an area so well. I basically have a bed of purple in my front yard.

It never gets below fifteen degrees here in winter, and it rarely gets that low. Frost can hurt the top of the plant, but it will grow back in the spring and summer.

I have cousins in California and Hawaii, and they both grow purple heart plants in their gardens. They got them from me when they visited, and since they both live in warm areas, the plants flourish there, as well.


I live in Texas, and it stays pretty warm out here. We do have a little frost in the winter at times, though. Would I be able to grow purple heart plants here?

What are the USDA zones that it can survive in? I believe I am in Zone 9.

I am always looking for plants that can tolerate the dryness and the heat of the summers here. From what I've read in this article, purple heart plants might just be ideal for my yard.


To me, the purple heart plant looks like a dolphin tail. The purple leaves fan out in opposite horizontal directions.

Its resemblance to the tail of a dolphin, along with its pink and purple colors, make it the ideal plant for a young girl to grow. My daughter loves purple heart plants, because she sees them as magical.

She grows them in the garden during the summer, and she brings them inside to live in pots during the cold months. Since her whole room is already decorated in pink and purple, the plants fit right in and accentuate the place.

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