Plant Labels – Inadequate

Q: I’m trying to determine if a “dwarf oyster plant” will survive as a perennial in Atlanta. I’ve checked books but none of them have a reference to this plant.

I’m at a loss why [a large home improvement store] and [a very big box store] would sell these plants here. I can understand them selling annual flowers here, but not plants that are supposed to be ground covers!

A: Let me bring out my multi-purpose portable soapbox for a moment.

When I go to the grocery store, wandering down the detergent aisle, I see dozens of different products in colorful boxes. Each box bears claims for the effectiveness of the detergent plus pictures of smiling, attractive people wearing their “Brighter than bright! Whiter than white!” clothing.

Contrast that with many “big box” plant aisles.

I see dozens of different plants with colorful leaves or blooms. But the labels on the plants leave much to be desired. Sure, most have a “common name” (common where?) and maybe a hardiness zone and light needed note, but little else.

If you were on the detergent aisle and the labels only said “Clothes soap”, “Dish soap” or “Hair soap”…..would that motivate you to buy one of them?

In my view, most “big box” stores see their plant department as an afterthought. They do not insist that plants be properly labeled with common name, exact Latin name, care instructions, etc.

The label on a hammer has more information!

So your plant label says “Dwarf Oyster Plant”. This plant is not grown in Georgia, so no one knows what it is. The words beneath say, in Spanish, “dwarf oyster plant”.

Big help…..but at least we know it needs “Sun.”

In fact, your plant is known as oyster plant in south Florida, where it is used as a groundcover. The scientific name is Tradescantia spathacea. It is definitely not winter hardy in Atlanta but I suppose it could be used as a houseplant.

A good rule to follow is never buy a plant you do not recognize if a store employee can’t identify it precisely. Stores that do not care about their plants do not care about their customers.

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