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Publication #FPS510

Rhoeo spathacea Oyster Plant, Moses in the Cradle1

Edward F. Gilman2


Oyster plant is a short-stemmed, tender foliage plant that makes attractive, small, dense, spreading clumps (Fig. 1). It forms a solid groundcover of upright leaves. The six- to eight-inch-long, sword-shaped leaves are green above and purplish below. The unusual flowers, borne down among the leaves, appear as clusters of tiny white flowers nestled within two boat-shaped, purplish bracts. They are not noticeable unless you look closely.

Figure 1. 

Oyster plant

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Rhoeo spathacea
Pronunciation: REE-oh spath-AY-see-uh
Common name(s): oyster plant, Moses in the Cradle
Family: Commelinaceae
Plant type: perennial; herbaceous
USDA hardiness zones: 9B through 11 (Fig. 2)
Planting month for zone 9: year round
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year round
Origin: not native to North America
Uses: mass planting; container or above-ground planter; naturalizing; suitable for growing indoors; cut foliage/twigs; edging
Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range

Figure 2. 

Shaded area represents potential planting range.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 1 to 1.5 feet
Spread: depends upon supporting structure
Plant habit: upright
Plant density: dense
Growth rate: slow
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: linear
Leaf venation: parallel
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: 8 to 12 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no fall color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Foliage of oyster plant

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Flower color: white
Flower characteristic: flowers periodically throughout the year


Fruit shape: elongated
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit cover: dry or hard
Fruit color: unknown
Fruit characteristic: inconspicuous and not showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: not applicable
Current year stem/twig color: reddish
Current year stem/twig thickness: very thick


Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun; plant grows in the shade
Soil tolerances: alkaline; clay; sand; acidic; loam; occasionally wet
Drought tolerance: high
Soil salt tolerances: unknown
Plant spacing: 18 to 24 inches


Roots: not applicable
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more
Invasive potential: potentially invasive
Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests

Use and Management

Oyster plant is ideal for use as a quick-growing groundcover, thriving in full sun to deep shade. Well-drained soils are a necessity since oyster plant is susceptible to a variety of leaf and especially root problems if over-watered. It is extremely drought tolerant, even growing in cracks in a concrete wall.

The variety 'Variegata' has leaves striped red and yellowish-green. There is at least one compact cultivar available.

Propagation is by seeds, cuttings, or division of the clumps.

Pests and Diseases

Caterpillars and mites can be a problem for oyster plant.

Fungus, root rot, and leaf spot can all be problems for oyster plant, especially if plants receive irrigation.



This document is FPS510, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.