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Tradescantia spathacea Oyster Plant, Moses in the Cradle

Edward F. Gilman, Ryan W. Klein, and Gail Hansen


Oyster plant is a short-stemmed, tender foliage plant that makes attractive, small, dense, spreading clumps. It forms a solid groundcover of upright leaves. The 6 to 8 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.

Full Form - Tradescantia spathacea: Oyster Plant, Moses in the Cradle
Figure 1. Full Form - Tradescantia spathacea: Oyster plant, Moses in the cradle.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS


Leaf - Tradescantia spathacea: Oyster Plant, Moses in the Cradle
Figure 2. Leaf - Tradescantia spathacea: Oyster plant, Moses in the cradle.
Credit: Edward F. Gilman, UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name: Tradescantia spathacea

Pronunciation: tra-des-KANT-i-a spath-AY-see-uh

Common name(s): oyster plant, Moses in the Cradle, boatlily

Family: Commelinaceae

Plant type: perennial; herbaceous

USDA hardiness zones: 9B through 11 (Figure 3)

Planting month for zone 9: year-round

Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year-round

Origin: native to Central America, North America and Mexico

Invasive potential: Invasive and not recommended by UF/IFAS faculty (reassess in 10 years)

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

Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 3. Shaded area represents potential planting range.


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


Flower color: white

Flower characteristic: flowers periodically throughout the year


Fruit shape: elongated

Fruit length: less than 0.5 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

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.

Publication #FPS510

Release Date:January 18, 2024

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About this Publication

This document is FPS510, one of a series of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Revised October 2023. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus; Ryan W. Klein, assistant professor, arboriculture; and Gail Hansen, professor, sustainable landscape design; Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Gail Hansen de Chapman
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