The oyster plant, Rhoeo spathacea, [ROH-ee-oh] [spath-ay-SEE-uh], displays boat-shaped bracts holding little white flowers.
The plant comes from the warm, humid regions of Central America where it’s commonly found growing in the shade of taller plants.
Rhoeo spathacea is native to Guatemala, Belize, and Southern Mexico.
These tropical plants are also naturalized in Louisiana and South Florida where it’s considered an invasive species.
The beautiful plant has become a popular choice for its simple yet bold appearance.
The variegated sports has unique foliage featuring three colors with stripes of green, pink, and white on top and purple underneath.
The distinct foliage gives Rhoeo spathacea several of its common names:
- Rhoeo tricolor
- Tricolor oyster plant
- Boat lily
- Moses in a boat
- Moses in the cradle
Part of the Commelinaceae family, Rhoeo spathacea also has several synonyms, including Tradescantia spathacea.
Tradescantia is the well known wandering Jew plant family.
No matter what you decide to call it, make sure these foliage plants get the right amount of humidity and shade.
Oyster Plant Care
Size and Growth
The oyster plant isn’t a big plant. It rarely grows more than 12″ to 15″ inches, making it easy to manage.
As mentioned, the plant produces tri-colored leaves.
The tops include stripes with light colors while the bottoms feature a dark purplish color.
The leaves grow directly from the base of the plant without tall stems or branches.
Flowering and Fragrance
The flowers also grow directly from the base, but most people choose to grow this plant for its striking tricolor and sometimes, green leaves.
The flowers are small and hard to notice as they grow close to each other at the base.
The little white petals appear on cradle-like bracts and last for many months but don’t produce a noticeable fragrance.
Light and Temperature
The best outdoor growing conditions include USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11.
In the summer, the plant grows well in temperatures in the low 70s.
During the colder months, keep the plant in a location that stays above 60° degrees Fahrenheit.
Outside of the recommended hardiness zones, the plant likely needs to overwinter indoors.
Avoid setting the plant in drafty spots or areas with much wind.
Rhoeo spathacea enjoys partial sun and partial shade.
When grown indoors, place in a north-facing or east-facing window to avoid giving the plant too much bright sunlight.
In the winter, move the plant to a window without direct sun, such as a part sun and part shade east-facing window.
Watering and Feeding
Water the drought tolerant plant thoroughly about once per week but avoid overwatering.
If water stands in the dish below the pot, it’s getting too much water. Fertilize throughout the active growing season.
In the winter, water about once every two weeks. Don’t fertilize in the winter.
Watering is important, but humidity is the greater concern. Use frequent misting with a spray bottle to keep the plant moist, especially during the dry winter months.
Soil and Transplanting
Moses, in a boat, grows best in very porous soil with fast drainage. To create the right conditions, mix leaf mold with light humus.
Transplant this low maintenance plant every two to three years but don’t move up to a larger pot unless repotting a younger plant.
If the pot is too big, the root system will take too much of the nourishment, stunting the development of the attractive leaves.
Grooming and Maintenance
The plant doesn’t require grooming, but some growers like to clean up the fallen leaves.
How To Propagate Rhoeo Spathacea
Propagate the plant using cuttings or seed. To propagate with cuttings, use these simple steps:
- In the early spring, cut the top of the plant off. This encourages the plant to produce side shoots.
- Cut the side shoots off after they reach two to four inches.
- Plant the cuttings in well-drained soil. To create the right blend, mix equal parts standard soil, leaf mold, and sand.
- Cover the cuttings with plastic or glass and set in a warm but shaded location.
- After about two months, the new shoots should appear.
To try propagating from seed, pollinate the flowers and then harvest the seeds in September or October.
Germinate the seeds throughout November and December for sowing in the spring.
Moses In A Boat Pests and Diseases
Mealybugs (tiny white bugs on plants) and other pests may appear.
Treat these infestations with insecticide or try washing them away with a spray bottle or hose.
If the leaves appear dead or brown, the plant is likely getting too much of full sun.
Move it to a shadier spot or a window that gets less sunlight.
Neck rot is another concern. It occurs when the plant receives too much water and not enough humidity.
Cut back on watering and increase misting with a spray bottle.
NOTE: Handling the oyster plant may cause skin irritation.
Uses For Moses In A Cradle
The dwarf oyster plant doesn’t like high light, making it an excellent option for placing underneath taller plants.
They also look great on their own on a stand, shelf in a small pot or as container plants.
Rhoeo Spathacea makes a great plant for hanging baskets, window boxes and ground cover.
For the best results, grow it with others of its kind as grouping multiple plants helps to keep the humidity levels up.