Friday, November 04, 2005

Tradescantia spathacea - a perfect houseplant for people with black thumbs

For an uncommon houseplant, T. spathacea has a lot of common names: oysterplant, boatlily, Moses-in-a-basket, Moses-in-a-boat, Moses-in-a cradle (sheesh - shouldn't Charlton Heston be around here somewhere? :-) ) I rarely see it for sale here in the Northwest, but I've seen it online occasionally.

I'm surprised it isn't sold more, because it's a great houseplant. It grows quickly with no pampering and offers both interesting flowers and beautiful leaves with rich purple undersides. It's a great houseplant for black thumbs, because it's very tolerant of abuse and benign neglect. It prefers medium to high light and moist soil, but it tolerates lower light and dryness well. It's also a great office plant. Mine thrives about 4 feet from a south-facing window here in cloudy Portland and looks none the worse for wear when I return from a week's vacation. A colleague of mine grows one with no natural light at all, only fluorescent light from ceiling fixtures about 7 feet away. It doesn't grow very fast or bloom, and it doesn't have the rich purple color under the leaves, but it looks OK and has survived these conditions for several years.

Propagation is easy. Stem cuttings root quickly in water or moist soil and soon grow into healthy-sized plants. The plants also produce lots of seeds, but I haven't tried starting any that way.

T. spathacea is hardy to zone 9. But if you live in zone 9 or above, please note that it is considered invasive in Florida and Louisiana, so you may want to keep it where it can't naturalize. For more information on T. spathacea, see

On a personal note, I got my first T. spathacea as a stem cutting from a friend; I brought it back to Portland from Georgia in my carry-on bag. My friend died several years ago of breast cancer, making my plant is a living memento of our friendship.

Posted by Janet to Rainy Day Gardening - Houseplants and Tropicals at 11/03/2005 07:44:00 PM