On the name “Wandering Jew” for Tradescantia

4 min readApr 20, 2023

Many, many moons ago, Avery Rowe (ICRA of the Tradescantia genus and founder of Tradescantia Hub) told me about the controversy surrounding one of the common names for Tradescantia, “Wandering Jew”. Some moons later (but still many moons ago) I launched a survey to get some statistics on it, so that we could refer to something, anything when we say things like “this name is considered offensive” or “some Jewish people like the name actually”. I intended to close the survey after 10 days and process the results and publish them, but life got busy…

The survey ran from 14th September 2022 until… a few minutes ago. It was promoted on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Tumblr and Mastodon, plus a few small plant- and survey-related groups I’m connected to on WhatsApp and Telegram. There were 669 responses, which I will summarise here. You can see the spreadsheet of results and all the tables and graphs I made about it here.

All respondents

Most respondents didn’t like the name (47%), and wouldn’t/don’t use it (61%). Only 7% used the name exclusively, as opposed to other well-used names such as “spiderwort”, and only 3% uncomplicatedly liked the name.

Bar graph. Title: Which of the following statements best matches your approach to the name “Wandering Jew” when referring to these plants? Blank: 0.3%. I do not (or would not) use the name: 61.3%. I use (or would use) the name sometimes: 31.1%. I use (or would use) the name exclusively: 7.3%.
Bar graph. Title: How do you feel about the common name “Wandering Jew” for this plant or group of plants? 0 participants failed to answer. Bad / I dislike it: 46.5%. Conflicted / mixed feelings: 26.9%. Neutral / no strong feelings: 23.6%. Good / I like it: 3.0%.

Several non-Jewish respondents said that the name felt antisemitic/racist/weird to them and so they were uncomfortable using it, despite not knowing how/why the name had come about. Several people said they would use it to clarify which plant they meant if a person didn’t recognise any other name, but wouldn’t use it in any other context. One Jewish respondent said they would only use it when speaking to other Jewish people. Several people mentioned the legend of the wandering Jew and said that it was antisemitic.

Generally speaking, the older the respondents were, the more willing they were to use the name “Wandering Jew”:

Table. Headings: Age, I use (or would use) the name exclusively, I use (or would use) the name sometimes, I do not (or would not) use the name. 10 or younger: no responses. 11–15: 0.0%, 28.6%, 71.4%. 16–20: 7.0%, 33.8%, 59.2%. 21–25: 7.8%, 33.1%, 58.4%. 26–30: 9.8%, 30.5%, 59.1%. 31–35: 6.2%, 30.1%, 63.7%. 36–40: 4.3%, 20.3%, 75.4%. 41–45: 8.0%, 40.0%, 52.0%. 46–50: 0.0%, 33.3%, 66.7%. 51–55: 25.0%, 12.5%, 62.5%. 56–60: 0.0%, 42.9%, 57.1%. 61+: no responses.

Jewish respondents

Of the 669 total responses, 120 were from Jewish people. This section will look at this group in isolation.

Interestingly, Jewish people were more likely to say that they like the name. However, that phrasing is technically correct and very misleading. Even among Jewish people the vast majority of participants didn’t choose that option in the survey. “Good/I like it” was the least-selected option among Jewish people and among all respondents overall:

Bar graph. As table, headings: Jewish?, Good / I like it, Neutral / no strong feelings, Conflicted / mixed feelings, Bad / I dislike it. Yes (Jewish): 11.7%, 19.5%, 26.0%, 42.9%. My relationship to Jewishness is more complicated than that: 0.0%, 18.6%, 20.9%, 60.5%. Yes / complicated: 7.5%, 19.2%, 24.2%, 49.2%. No (not Jewish): 2.0%, 24.6%, 27.5%, 45.9%.

Of the participants who said they had at least some connection to Jewishness, only 7.5% said they liked the name “Wandering Jew”, compared to 49% who said they didn’t like the name.

Let’s combine “yes (Jewish)” and “complicated relationship to Jewishness”, to group everyone who is not not Jewish. Let’s also combine the “good” and “neutral” feelings and the “bad” and “conflicted” feelings, to roughly group into people who feel it’s acceptable and people who feel that it is not/might not be acceptable:

Bar graph. Title: Jewish[ish] people on the name. Good/neutral: 26.7%. Conflicted/bad: 73.3%.

That’s quite the ratio. I think we can conclude that, if you want to be thoughtful towards Jewish people, it may be advisable to avoid the name “Wandering Jew”.

Alternative names

Part of the survey also asked for alternative names, and how people felt about them.

Here’s every name that was typed in over 10 times, with percentages to show how well-known they are:

  • wandering dude: 14.2%
  • inch plant/inchplant: 8.9%
  • tradescantia: 6.6%
  • spiderwort: 3.9%
  • silver inch plant: 1.6%
  • wandering jewel: 1.6%

And here’s what people said their favourites were (everything entered more than once):

  • tradescantia: 3.9%
  • wandering dude: 2.5%
  • inch plant: 1.9%
  • spiderwort: 1.0%
  • tradescantia zebrina: 0.9% (this is a species within the tradescantia genus, and so probably unsuitable)
  • inchplant: 0.6%
  • zebrina: 0.6% (this is a species within the tradescantia genus, and so probably unsuitable)
  • purple heart: 0.4% (this is the name of a specific cultivar within the family of plants, and so probably unsuitable)
  • silver inch plant: 0.4%
  • dayflower: 0.3%

With the most popular being entered by only 3.9% of participants, this doesn’t feel like a ringing endorsement! I suspect another survey may be needed. Personally, I think “Wandering Jewel” is my favourite — the plant does indeed wander, and it is often jewel-toned purple, and/or shimmering and glinting in sunlight. “Wandering Dude” somehow doesn’t do it for me, I’d rather just say “Wanderer”, and now that I check the spreadsheet I see that literally no one entered that, including myself. 🤦


“Wandering Jew” is not a very popular name, among both Jewish and non-Jewish people, but especially among younger people. It might be better to use an alternative such as “inchplant”, or just use the genus name “tradescantia”.




Pronouns: they/them. Feel free to point out my spelling etc. errors so I can fix them!