Moses-in-the cradle, Moses-in-a-boat, oyster plant, boat lily, cradle lily, Moses-in-the-bullrushes: these are all names for the same popular houseplant. The Latin name for this native of Mexico, Central America and the West Indies is Tradescantia spathacea, also sometimes called Rhoeo spathacea. Moses-in-the-cradle is a colourful and undemanding plant, which will add a tropical touch to your home.
Moses-in-the-cradle flower in its "boat"
The leaves of the Moses-in-the-cradle plant are long, sword-shaped, fleshy and somewhat stiff. They grow in rosettes around the stem, and are dark green above and deep burgundy below. The leaves are held upright, showing off the unusual colouring.
The flowers of the Moses-in-the-cradle plant are inconsequential, but they do grow in an interesting fashion, and are the reason for the plant's many unusual names. Each small, white, three-petaled flower is hidden in a boat-shaped purple cup which lies in a leaf axil. Because the flowers are not particularly showy, the plant is grown primarily for its colourful foliage. Flowers can occur at any time during the year.
It is easy to provide the right culture for the Moses-in-the-cradle plant. It is happy with medium humidity and normal household temperatures. It will survive in a variety of light exposures, but seems to prefer light shade. Keep the soil barely moist, using warm water. Feed the plant during its active growing season (spring and summer) with a general fertiliser. Repot or top-dress the surface with fresh potting soil every second year.
The plant reaches a height of about 12 inches, with a width of about 18 inches. You can maintain its upright habit by pinching off any shoots which grow from the base. The Moses-in-the-cradle plant is susceptible to spider mites and mealy bugs, so examine the leaves carefully at each watering to spot any problems at an early stage. The plant can be propagated by taking cuttings and rooting them in a light sandy soil.
'Variegata' (also sold as 'Tricolor') has green leaves striped with white and a pink blush. 'Vittata' has green leaves striped with yellow, and sometimes a reddish tinge. Any Moses-in-the-cradle plant is best displayed on its own, rather than massed with other plants, to highlight the striking leaf colouration and tiny flowers in their "boats".
While Moses-in-the-cradle plants make fine houseplants, they are considered an invasive species in many warm-weather areas, including central and southern Florida.
The plant's sap may cause skin irritation.