The oyster plant (Tradescantia spathacea) is a popular, eye-catching, compact houseplant that also can be grown outdoors in warm climates (or brought outside over the summer in cooler climates). It has long, lance-shaped, glossy, dark green leaves with purple undersides; small white or pink flowers (which look identical to spiderwort blooms); and a pleasing rosette form. There is foliage color variation within the species, with some leaves showing variegation and others being solid. This plant has a fairly quick growth rate and is best planted in the early spring.
|Scientific Name||Tradescantia spathacea|
|Common Names||Boat lily, oyster plant, Moses-in-the-cradle|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous, perennial|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 12–24 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, rocky, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Native Areas||Central America|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and animals|
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.
Oyster Plant Varieties
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.
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.