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Rhoeo spathacea Oyster Plant, Moses in the Cradle1

Edward F. Gilman 2


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
Figure 1.  Oyster plant

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.
Figure 2.  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

Figure 3. Foliage of oyster plant
Figure 3.  Foliage of oyster plant


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.


1. 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
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #FPS510

Date: 9/28/2015


      Organism ID


      • Gail Hansen de Chapman