The Oyster Plant, also called the purple-leaved-spider-wort or the Boat lily or Moses-in-the-cradle, is a fleshy or succulent perennial garden herb belonging to the Commelinaceae family first described in 1788. The botanical name of oyster plant is Tradescantia spathaceaI, however, in the past it had different names and even today scientists use a series of names, like Rhoeo spathacea, Rhoeo discolor, Tradescantia discolor and Ephremerum bicolor. It is native to Belize, Guatemala, and southern Mexico but widely cultivated as an ornamental and naturalized in parts of Florida, Texas, Hawaii, and various oceanic islands.
The plant has fleshy rhizomes and rosettes of waxy lance-shaped leaves. The plant can be easily identified by the dark green color on the upper surface of the leaves and the reddish purple color on the under surface. The stem is thick and unbranched. There are numerous tiny white flowers that are clustered at the leaf axils and lodge inside the boat shaped bracts. The flowers are open in the mornings. This plant is an ornamental plant and found in many tropical countries. Being a succulent and hardy plant, it can survive floods as well as droughts. They are toxic to people and animals.
Table of Contents
6 - 24 inches
12 - 36 inches
5.0 - 7.3
Varieties of Oyster Plant
There are several varieties of oyster plants that range in appearance, including:
Tradescantia spathacea ‘Vittata’: This cultivar is known for its foliage of yellow and green stripes.
Tradescantia spathacea ‘Stripe-Me-Pink’: This cultivar features foliage striped with green, cream, and pink.
Tradescantia spathacea ‘Sitara’s Gold’: This cultivar has copper-gold leaves with burgundy undersides.
Planting Oyster Plant
Provided your soil mixture drains well and doesn’t retain too much water, you will only have to worry about replanting the Oyster plant when the clump outgrows the present container.
If you just purchased your Oyster plant and want to replant in a container of your choice, just be sure it has bottom drain holes. The plant makes an attractive addition used in regular pots or hanging baskets and even works well mixed with other plants with the same light and water requirements.
Basic planting steps:
Remove the Oyster plant from its present container. If replanting due to the plant outgrowing its present container, use a new container that is one size larger.
Fill the new container about a quarter of the way full with a well-drained potting mix. Water the soil to settle it.
Place the oyster plant into the new container and finish filling with soil.
Water the soil again and until it runs from the bottom drain holes.
Situate the container is a bright location receiving indirect light.
Oyster Plant Care
The oyster plant is generally easy to care for. It also grows well in containers, making it ideal for those with little experience growing houseplants. It doesn't have any serious issues with pests or diseases, though you should watch out for common plant pests, such as mealybugs, scale, whiteflies, and spider mites. It also doesn't need any special pruning; just remove any dead leaves as they arise for a tidy appearance.
Oyster plants like consistency of temperature, so avoid placing them near drafty windows and doors, as well as near heating and air-conditioning. They don't need much watering, but they should not be allowed to fully dry out.
The oyster plant does best with bright, indirect light. It can grow in full sun, but it will need some protection from the harsh afternoon sun. It also can survive in shade, but the foliage won't be as vibrant and the plant will likely become leggy.
These plants prefer a fairly rich, well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral soil pH. A sandy loam is perfect, but rocky soil also will do. For container plants, a typical houseplant potting mix should suffice.
Oyster plants are drought-tolerant once they're established, so they are happy to be watered infrequently. In fact, overwatering can cause a plant to rot and die. From spring to fall, water whenever the top 2 inches of soil feel dry. Back off on watering over the winter when the plant is dormant. At this point, watering every two weeks should suffice.
Temperature and Humidity
Oyster plants thrive in temperatures between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They should be brought indoors if there is a threat of frost. Being tropical, these plants require some humidity for their leaves to stay healthy. The easiest way to provide this is to place a tray of water and pebbles beneath the plant's container. Placing the plant in your bathroom, as long as there is adequate light, is also a good way to provide humidity. Or you can use an electric humidifier.
It's typically not necessary to fertilize an oyster plant, but it can help to encourage healthy growth. You can use a houseplant fertilizer only during the growing season. However, too much fertilizer can cause the leaf tips to brown. If this occurs, water deeply to flush out the soil.
Propagating Oyster Plants
The oyster plant produces new plant shoots that pop up around the base of the main plant. These can be propagated as new plants. It's best to wait until they're at least 4 inches tall to propagate. At this point, you can gently pull them from the main plant's root system, keeping as many roots as possible intact on them, and pot them in a separate container.
Potting and Repotting Oyster Plants
Pot oyster plants in a container that is slightly larger than their root ball. The container should have ample drainage holes. The root system on these plants can get quite dense, so repotting is necessary every two years or so. Choose a slightly larger container, and repot the plant in fresh potting mix. Water it well after transplanting, then return to your normal watering schedule.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Although Oyster plants don’t have any serious pest problems, insects such as mealybugs, spider mites, whiteflies and scale can sometime affect plants. Quick treatment solves the problem and assures the pests don’t migrate to your other indoor plants infecting them too.
All the pests are easily identified, and controlled with the same products.
Mealybugs: Mealy bugs suck the sap from the Oyster plant’s foliage and show as clumps of white cottony looking masses, typically forming in the crotch of the leaves.
Whiteflies: Whiteflies are other sap-sucking pests that can quickly injure or kill your Oyster plant if not quickly treated. If you disturb the plant, small white insects will start flying around the top of the Oyster plant.
Spider mites: Spider mites are another sap-sucker that can quickly damage or kill an untreated Oyster plant. The white, spider-like pests spin a fine webbing over the plant.
Scale: Scale insects also suck the sap from the Oyster plant. The small, oval pest come in a vast array of colors and have an armored-like shell covering and usually congregating in masses over the foliage.
You can treat all the pests by saturating the Oyster plant’s foliage with neem or by using an insecticidal soap, repeating as directed on the specific product’s label. In addition, if you catch the pest problem at the beginning, you might be able to wipe the pests from the Oyster plant using a damp cloth.
Oyster plants are considered relatively free from disease problems other than those caused by rot due to overwatering or growing in soil that is too heavy and retains too much water. When rot becomes a problem the foliage and base of the Oyster plant becomes water soaked and can eventually turn black and mushy. If the rot problem is severe, the Oyster plant can die.
Prevent rot problems by making sure the soil mixture drains well and only apply water when the top inch of soil becomes dry to the touch. If your soil mixture is too heavy and retains too much water, you need to repot the Oyster plant into a lighter soil mix such as what’s found in typical potting mixes.
The decoction of the flowers and leaves is recommended for colds, sore throat, whooping cough, nasal bleeding, bacillary dysentery and blood in the stools.
A poultice made from the crushed or ground leaves may be applied externally to reduce inflammations or swellings.
They also look great on their own on a stand, shelf in a small pot or as container plants.
It makes a great plant for hanging baskets, window boxes and garden ground cover.