752 Tradescantia spathaceaCommon Names: oysterplant, Moses-in-the-cradle, boatlily, Moses-in-a-boat, Moses-in-the-bulrushes, men-in-a-boat Family: Commelinaceae (spiderwort Family)
Oysterplant is a rather succulent herb with a dense cluster of sturdy 6-12 in (15.2-30.5 cm) long sword-shaped leaves arising from a trunklike stem up to 8 in (20.3 cm) tall. The leaves are a dark teal-tinged forest green on top and vivid violet underneath. The small white three-petaled flowers are hidden in boat-shaped purple bracts nestled in the leaf axils. Flowers and seed are produced all year. The cultivar 'Vittata' has leaves striped with red and yellow-green. 'Concolor' has all-green leaves.
Oysterplant, Tradescantia spathacea, occurs naturally in the West Indies, Mexico, and Central America. It has escaped cultivation and become established in Florida and Louisiana.
CultureAlthough it likes soil with substantial organic matter, oysterplant will grow in sand or even coral rock. It transplants easily and broken pieces resprout readily. Light: Oysterplant seems to prefer light shade, but it grows well in bright sun as well as in fairly dim light. Moisture: Oysterplant appreciates moist soil, but tolerates drought well. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 - 11. Oysterplant is definitely a tropical plant, but it may survive a light freeze if covered and coddled. Propagation: New plants may be started from cuttings taken in the spring and rooted in light sandy soil or by potting up offsets. Start plants from seed by crumbling an old blossom cluster and placing it on the soil.
Oysterplant is primarily grown for bedding, rock gardens, and tropical effects. The reddening effect of the irritating juice has been used for cheek coloring.
Oysterplant seems relatively tolerant of the allelopathic chemicals (compounds that prevent other plants from growing) put out by Australian pine. If your yard is shaded by these trees and you are having trouble getting anything to grow under them, try oysterplant and Madagascar periwinkle, too.
Oysterplant grows commonly around ancient Mayan sites in Guatemala, Yucatan and Belize, and probably was cultivated for use as a cosmetic.
Oysterplant has naturalized in Florida and Louisiana and is listed as a Category I invasive exotic species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. This means that it is known to be "invading and disrupting native plant communities in Florida." Although the seeds are apparently wind-dispersed and oysterplant consequently turns up growing in all sorts of places - even as an epiphyte on city buildings - real ecological problems seem limited to situations where it has invaded hardwood hammock forests. In such places, it can create a dense groundcover that prevents native plants from germinating on the forest floor.
Contact with the sap may cause brief stinging and itching of the skin. Attempting to eat oysterplant results in severe burning pain in the mouth and throat.
Linda Conway Duever 7/5/00; updated 3/10/04