As a card-carrying arachnophobe—at least when it comes to humongous eight-legged critters—you might therefore logically guess I'm not a big fan of applying the word spider to even part of a plant's name. Why go there and inadvertently dredge up all those sinister connotations? Thus, spider plant, spider lily, and spider wort are not high on my list of favorite plant names…though the latter, the Ohio spiderwort, is as pretty a wildflower as you've ever seen.
Yes, I know that in the old herbals, the suffix wort once indicated a plant's supposed medicinal usefulness, generally in treating whatever the prefix named. In this case, spiderwort might have been thought a treatment for spider bites. (See what I mean about all those menacing connotations?)
Of course, another common name for the same plant is cow slobber—which is just plain disgusting. And I've been slobbered on by enough cows over the years to have a right to that opinion. However, should you think you've heard the worst of the names, I say the apex of appellation indignities vested upon this lovely native wildflower is snotweed, which is simply too gross to dwell upon even in jest. Talk about being a three-time loser in the name game!
Both of these last two loathsome names come from the fact that when the plant's stem is damaged or broken, long, shiny strings of juice leak out. Incidentally, some texts claim it's the resemblance of these long juice strands to the silk of a spider's web that gives the plant its name…but because of the usual herbal "wort" linking to use in treatment, I frankly have my doubts.
Ohio spiderwort is often found around prairies, and that's where I photographed these plants yesterday, in a little prairie patch just up the road. Spiderworts are dayflowers, each blossom lasts only a day, and most of the time—the exception being heavily overcast days—the flowers seldom stay open past noon. Typically, the blooms tend more toward shades of purple and violet. However, as you can see, these flowers were decidedly on the blue end of the scale.
What's in a name? In the case of the Ohio spiderwort, a lot prettier flower than you might imagine.