Oyster plant care & info | Tradescantia spathacea

A houseplant with amazing color (purple!) that’s extremely easy to care for and grows abundantly. It exists!

If you’re looking for a show-stopping houseplant but don’t want the more complicated care of orchids or Calatheas, you’ll love the Tradescantia genus. This particular variety, also known as the oyster plant, moses-in-the-cradle or boat lily, is perfect for beginners and can handle a bit of abuse.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about oyster plant care.


Note: Tradescantia spathacea is one of the only members of the genus Tradescantia that grows upwards rather than downwards.

Looking for a hanging plant? You might like Tradescantia zebrina or Tradescantia fluminensis, both commonly known as inch plant.


Name(s) (common, scientific) Oyster plant, moses-in-the-cradle, boat lily, purple-leaved spiderwort, Tradescantia spathacea (sometimes Rhoeo spathacea or Rhoeo discolor)
Difficulty level Easy
Recommended lighting Bright indirect
Water Let dry slightly
Soil type All-purpose

Oyster plant care

This plant’s natural green variety was originally discovered in certain parts of Central America. Nowadays it can be found in various other countries, often escaped from gardens. Like other members of the Tradescantia genus it’s pretty hardy and can be quite invasive.

Tradescantia spathacea’s growth pattern and natural habitat give us some good care indications. This is a rather low plant that is used to being shaded by taller trees, so it prefers indirect light. It won’t react well to low temperatures and although its leaves are slightly fleshy it won’t appreciate its soil being left to dry out completely.

Shallow focus oyster plant houseplant on white table.

Oyster plant light, location & temperature

Light

You’ll have to provide plenty of it to keep your Tradescantia spathacea happy. Direct sun is not ideal, especially not harsh afternoon sunlight. Instead, place this plant in a spot that receives lots of indirect light.

Imperfect lighting conditions aren’t too problematic if they’re not permanent, but you might see your oyster plant starting to stretch in an attempt to reach the sky. Also, if you’ve got one of the selectively cultivated varieties with bright purple leaves, it might revert back to its natural green color in low light.

Location

Apart from its demand for plenty of light, Tradescantia spathacea is not picky at all when it comes to its preferred location in your home.

Although it doesn’t like overly dry air, the humidity in your home should be just fine.

Temperature

As mentioned earlier, Tradescantia spathacea won’t do well in low temperatures. Keep it away from chilly windows during wintertime.

Other than that, the regular temperature in your home should work well.

Oyster plant (Tradescantia spathacea) in small colorful vase | Full oyster plant care guide

Planting oyster plant

As with other aspects of oyster plant care, potting up your Tradescantia spathacea is a breeze. No complicated soil mixes needed as long as excess water can drain without the soil drying out too quickly. Just mix potting soil with a small amount of perlite for added drainage.

Pot-wise, as always, go for something with a drainage hole. I prefer plastic nursery pots like this one rather than terracotta for plants that don’t need to dry out very quickly. They’re very cheap and you can easily hide their ugliness with a decorative overpot.

Watering oyster plant

When it comes to watering, Tradescantia spathacea isn’t too difficult. During summertime when it’s actively growing it will appreciate lightly moist soil. Just let the first inch or so dry out before watering again, which will likely come down to watering around twice a week.

This plant won’t appreciate wet feet, so be sure to remove any excess water if you happen to accidentally overwater. It’s better to water too little than too much.

During winter, when houseplants aren’t putting out much growth, you can reduce waterings. Let the soil dry out a little more; around once a week should work well during this time.

Close-up of variegated oyster plant in the sunlight.

Propagating oyster plant

As with its other care aspects, propagating an oyster plant is pretty much a breeze. There are three ways to do so: through stem cuttings, division or growing from seed.

  • Stem cuttings: Yep, although it might not always look like it, Tradescantia spathacea does actually have stems. If you peek through the dense leaves, you should be able to find a good spot to make a cut. This can be done with a clean knife or shears, after which you can root the cutting in water or soil.
  • Division: This is best done if you were already going to repot your oyster plant, as taking it out of the soil will allow you to identify the different offsets and easily separate them. You can place each offset in its own planter. As offsets already tend to have their own root systems, they should keep growing fine.
  • From seed: Oyster plants do flower indoors. If the flowers are fertilized, a seed pod will form once they wilt, and you can harvest the seed. Just sow it in some moist coco coir and place the whole thing under a humidity dome. You should see seedlings start popping up in a few days or weeks!

Oyster plant fertilizer

Like most houseplants, Tradescantia spathacea will appreciate a little fertilizer from time to time.

During its growing period (spring to fall) you can mix in some diluted houseplant fertilizer during watering to give your oyster plant a little boost.

Buying oyster plant

This plant is widely appreciated for its gorgeous foliage, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it.

Do keep in mind that it’s still sometimes sold under its old name, Rhoeo spathacea, which can get a little confusing. Just look for that typical mix of green and purple and you should be able to locate the correct plant easily!

Is the oyster plant toxic to cats and dogs?

Although the species isn’t explicitly toxic, Tradescantia spathacea leaves contain irritating sap that can hurt your cat’s, dog’s or even child’s mouth and other areas it touches. So keep this plant out of their reach or skip it altogether if you’re worried! Also, be careful when repotting.

If you happen to damage a leaf, the sap can irritate your hands, so try wearing gloves if you have to handle your Tradescantia spathacea.


If you have any more questions about oyster plant care or want to share your own experiences with this nifty houseplant, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

14 thoughts on “Oyster plant care & info | Tradescantia spathacea”

  1. I was given a Moses(Orster plant) in the Cradle by a dear friend. I remember seeing it on her kitchen table the first time I came to her home about 4 or 5 years ago. He moved away this week but gave me this and other plants. Moses has grown ‼️ He’s growing more like a philodendron. I’m sure he’s supposed to be a bit more bushy that he is. The stems are over 4 ft long and the leaves are about 4- 5 inches apart. I’m not sure but is it possible he just needs more light than what she was giving him❓I think it’s called gotten LEGGY. Your articles are great. Hope you can help him and me out.

    Reply
    • Yes, that sounds like it’s leggy, also known as etiolated. How’s the color on the plant? If they turn greenish rather than their normal pink, that’s also a good indication they’re not getting enough. Give him plenty of light and follow the instructions on propagation if you prefer to start over 🙂 Good luck!

      Reply
  2. My wife and I have never seen a plant like this. It is so happy in our humid bathroom window in diffused light. It has been blooming for months.. My brother gave me a cutting 2 years before he passed away so finding out what it is and keeping it alive is so important to us. A bit of Billy left with us to remind us of the joy he brought. Thanks for the info and God bless. PLM

    Reply
  3. The ASPCA website does not list this as a toxic plant? Where did you get the information that oyster plant is toxic to dogs?

    Reply
    • Toxic might be a bit strong, but it is irritating. I get a rash on my hands whenever I handle them without gloves and wouldn’t want one in my mouth. The ASPCA doesn’t list this species at all but it does list its cousin Tradescantia fluminensis here, mentioning it as toxic due to the risk of dermatitis. It won’t kill your dog but it’ll cause it discomfort for sure.

      Reply
  4. This article is here informative and helpful! Now I’ve had my Oyster plant, Oli for about a year and a half. He almost died last Christmas and I brought him back to life when I reported and put it in soil that drained better. Now he’s one of those who is reaching towards the sky. He gets a good bit of sunlight in my house. How can I make it to where he grows outward instead of just up? He looks like a Jack in the Beanstalk right now. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi! Glad to hear the article was helpful to you 🙂

      Oyster plants grown outdoors stay low and act as ground cover mostly so although he gets quite some sun he must still be lacking something. Have you ever tried installing one of those light meters on your phone to measure the light that comes in? They’re not exactly entirely accurate (you’d need an actual light meter for that) but they could give you an idea. Houseplant Journal has some good resources on light.

      I hope that gives you some direction to figure out why Oli is stretching!

      Reply

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