Tradescantia spathacea, commonly known as Moses in the Cradle, Boat Lily, Moses in a Basket, or Dwarf Oyster is a popular houseplant known for its attractive foliage and easy care requirements.
In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive guide on how to grow and care for this wonderful plant, covering its origin and appearance, plus some care requirements to help your plant achieve robust health and display abundant foliage.
Native to Mexico and Central America, Tradescantia spathacea was formerly known as Rhoeo spathacea and may still be listed under that name. This distinctive plant features sword-shaped leaves arranged in a lush rosette pattern. The leaves grow up to 10 inches long and 2-3 inches wide, sheathing and overlapping to form a striking display. Their tops are a delicately streaked dark green and purple hue, while luminous purplish-red coloring adorns their undersides.
There can be variations in the leaf coloration between individual Moses in the Cradle plants. Some cultivars like ‘Variegated’ feature pink and white striping, while others like the popular dwarf purple form have completely purple leaves. Additional varieties include ‘Stripe-Me-Pink’, ‘Vittata Variegata’ with yellow variegation, and the all-yellow blooming ‘Gold’.
The waxy, fleshy texture of the leaves is quite notable. Its short, stout stems are nearly hidden by the arrangement, giving the impression of a swollen trunk crowned by the rosette. Lack of sufficient light causes the stems to elongate, lessening the rosette’s compact shape.
Over time, lower leaves will naturally fall off, revealing the fleshy stems where cuttings can be easily separated to propagate new plants. Proper care and cultivation is key to maintaining the Moses in the Cradle’s iconic lush foliage and habit over many seasons. Please let me know if any part needs further clarification or expansion.
Size and Growth Habit
Moses in the Cradle (Tradescantia spathacea) exhibits a unique clumping growth form, arising from underground rhizomes. Individual plants reach up to 1 foot in height and 2feet in width, forming dense rosettes. Its tendency for upward growth from the base makes it less suitable for hanging baskets, though small containers showcase its appeal well as a dramatic table accent.
Outdoors, it serves beautifully as a dense groundcover in zones 9 or warmer, or can be maintained outside during summertime in cooler areas with afternoon shade. However, its prolific spread requires caution, as it may naturalize aggressively given ideal conditions.
Primarily grown as an attractive houseplant, Tradescantia spathacea also flexibly occupies gardens when winters remain frost-free. Thriving in bright yet indirect light, its compact nature and colorful foliage charm living spaces from bathrooms to living rooms with ease.
Care involves protecting it from harsh sun which could scorch leaves when moved outside for summertime enjoyment in the landscape. Either indoors or out, Moses in the Cradle flourishes best with its preference for diffused sunlight and clumping roots respected.
Flowers and Bloom Time
Moses in the Cradle (Tradescantia spathacea) produces small white flowers with three petals, three sepals, six stamens, and one pistil that bloom throughout the year. Nestled inside vibrant purplish-colored boat-shaped bracts in the leaf axils, the flowers give rise to the common names “Moses in the Cradle” and “Boat Lily.” These hermaphroditic blooms can be cross-pollinated by insects but also self-pollinate when pollinators are absent, enabling reproduction from seed, cuttings, offshoots or fragmented plant parts.
While the flowers are what gives this species its common names, they are not the primary attraction of this species. Tradescantia spathacea is predominantly grown for its vibrant colorful foliage rather than spectacular blooms. In fact, the flowers rarely appear on indoor specimens. Nestled between the leaves, the tiny white blooms remain obscured and do not produce a showy floral display, yet they persist over long periods.
After flowering, fruit develops in the form of three-celled capsules similar to tulip pods. Like tulips, the three ovary compartments split longitudinally through three slits, each containing seeds surrounded by vivid red arils. This prolonged blooming and self-fertility allows Moses in the Cradle to spread readily under optimal conditions for years of colorful texture.
Moses in the Cradle care
Tradescantia Spathacea makes an excellent and fast growing houseplant. Also known as Moses-in-the-cradle or dwarf oyster plant, it’s very easy to care for and will give you years of pleasure.
Moses in the Cradle thrives in bright, indirect natural light, mimicking conditions in its native forest understory habitat. It can take a few hours of morning or evening direct sun without issue, bringing out their most pronounced hues.
Though it will also perform well in slightly lower light, for best foliage vibrancy aim for a highly lit spot. However, steady exposure during peak heat risks damage as direct sun rays could scorch their foliage.
Insufficient light is the primary cause of lanky, leggy growth as stems stretch upwards prematurely searching for more illumination. The leaves may also lose their vibrant purple hue, reverting to a duller green. Plants placed in a south or west-facing window generally receive the ideal light spectrum.
With adequate light levels maintained, Moses in the Cradle retains a beautiful compact shape. Make adjustments indoors or out by observing plants’ responses over time. Always prioritize a luminous setting for enriched coloring in this breathtaking foliage plant.
During the springs through falls growing season, Moses in the Cradle enjoys evenly moist soil that doesn’t fully dry out. Allow the top 1-2 inches of potting medium to dry between waterings before refreshing the container until water drains freely. This mimics its woodland habitat.
In winter dormancy, the soil can dry slightly more before watering resumes. Due to their succulent-like leaves, Tradescantia spathacea tolerates both drought stresses and will not suffer if forgotten between waterings. Their thick foliage stores water for a few dry days.
Always use lukewarm water and test the soil moisture before watering. Excess humidity from overwatered soil can rot roots and cause brown stem tips. As plants enter dormancy, water less frequently.
Temperature and Humidity
Average to warm room temperatures (65-80°F/18-27°C) are suitable for Tradescantia spathacea. It can tolerate a minimum temperature of 55°F/13°C but prolonged exposure below this temperature risks leaf drop or stunted growth until temperatures rise again.
Tradescantia spathacea prefers moderate room humidity. Increase humidity by misting the foliage with tepid water daily or using a cool-mist room humidifier. A humid atmosphere can also be generated by the proximity of broad-leaved plants such as ferns or by placing the pot on a saucer filled with marbles wet clay.
Moses in the Cradle thrives when planted in a well-draining potting mix that retains some moisture. A rich, organic soil such as houseplant potting mix or cactus/succulent soil is ideal. These mixes allow sufficient drainage while still providing necessary nutrients.
It’s important the soil dries adequately between waterings. Planting in very dense, moisture-retentive soil like garden loam risks root rot. Adding perlite or vermiculite to any soil improves drainage. And consider elevating pots slightly to aid runoff through the drainage holes.
Feed monthly with a balanced, water-soluble houseplant fertilizer during the spring and summer when the plant is actively growing.
Moses in the Cradle propagation
Tradescantia spathacea can be propagated through division. This is done by separating the rosette-shaped offshoots that grow around the plant with some roots attached and potting them separately.
Spring is the best time to propagate Moses in the Cradle because it is starting its most vigorous time of growth. The new plant must be placed in the shade and in the warmth, maintaining good humidity over time. that it shows signs of recovery.
It is also possible to cut the main rosette to take cuttings, which will encourage the development of suckers at the base of the stem and will rejuvenate the plant.
In springtime, you can also sow fresh seeds in a pot filled with seed starting mix, covering lightly with 1⁄4 inch of soil. Press this layer down gently and keep the soil moist until germination occurs within 4-6 weeks.
Place the pot in a warm spot with medium light. Once seedlings have emerged and developed their first true leaves, uncover and transfer carefully to individual pots or outdoor gardens.
Repotting and Transplanting
Generally repot every spring in a slightly larger pot until the plant reaches its adult size. Move it to a pot that is only one size larger to give it a little room to grow and also ensure the pot has drainage holes to prevent soggy soil, which can lead to root rot.
When repotting established plants or sowing seeds, shift pups or starts into 4-6 inch pots using the recommended soil blends. Larger pots with fresh soil encourage uninhibited growth. You may also use the plant’s preferred soil for indoor containers or outdoor garden beds come summertime trials in your climate.
Regardless of container, be sure the soil remains consistently moist but not soaking wet. These adaptable plants forgive average care but truly revel when conditions suit their preferences
Is Moses in the Cradle toxic?
Tradescantia spathacea produces a sap that is slightly toxic to both humans and animals and can cause itching and reddening of the skin. If ingested it causes irritation to the mouth and causes abdominal pains, even being poisonous in large enough quantities.
In pets, this plant seems to induce allergic reactions including red patches and severe itching. It is therefore better that the plantt is placed away from traffic and contact with people, to avoid inconvenience.