Moses in the Cradle: Plant Care & How to Grow

Updated: 15 Sep, 2023


If you’re captivated by exotic and enigmatic flora, you’re in good company! We share a deep appreciation for these unique specimens that grace our gardens, and among them, the Moses-in-the-Cradle plant stands out as a true heart-stealer.

Botanically known as Tradescantia spathacea, this captivating plant goes by several charming monikers: Moses-in-the-Cradle, Boat Lily, Cradle Lily, Oyster plant, or even the endearing “Bloaty.” Belonging to the Commelinaceae family, this herbaceous wonder traces its origins to the lush landscapes of Belize, Guatemala, and the southern reaches of Mexico, including Tabasco, Chiapas, and the Yucatan Peninsula.

While its natural habitat spans these Central American regions, Moses-in-the-Cradle plants have found new homes in far-flung corners, from the verdant landscapes of Hawaii to the balmy shores of Florida, and even the rugged terrain of Texas, not to mention various other oceanic islands. Its allure has led to extensive cultivation as an ornamental delight, making it a cherished addition to households worldwide. Join the ranks of devoted growers who have fallen under the spell of this beguiling houseplant, and let the Moses-in-the-Cradle weave its enchantment in your own garden.

How to grow a Moses in the Cradle

Growing a Moses in the Cradle (Tradescantia spathacea) can be a rewarding experience. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

Purchase or Acquire a Plant:
You can start with a mature Moses in the Cradle plant from a nursery, or obtain a cutting from a friend or neighbor who already has one.

Select a Suitable Container:
Choose a pot with drainage holes to prevent overwatering. Make sure it’s the right size, allowing the plant some room to grow.

Choose Well-Draining Soil:
Use a well-draining potting mix. A mixture of regular potting soil with perlite or orchid bark works well.

Fill the pot about one-third full with the prepared soil mix. Carefully place the Moses in the Cradle in the center of the pot and add more soil around it, leaving some space at the top for watering.

Water thoroughly until it starts to drain out of the bottom. Ensure that the soil is evenly moist but not waterlogged. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again.

Place the plant in bright, indirect light. It can tolerate lower light conditions but avoid direct sunlight, as it can scorch the leaves.

Maintain temperatures between 60-75°F (15-24°C). It can handle slightly cooler conditions but should be protected from frost.

During the growing season (spring and summer), feed with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. Reduce feeding in fall and winter.

Trim back leggy or overgrown stems to encourage bushier growth. Remove any dead or yellowing leaves regularly.

Propagation (Optional):
If you want to propagate your Moses in the Cradle, you can take stem cuttings and root them in water or soil.

Repotting (As Needed):
Repot every 1-2 years or when the plant outgrows its current container. Choose a pot that is 1-2 inches larger in diameter.

Moses in the Cradle Care

“Moses in the Cradle” (Tradescantia spathacea), also known as oyster plant or boat lily, is a popular houseplant known for its striking purple and green foliage. It’s relatively easy to care for, making it a great choice for both experienced and novice plant owners.

Here’s a care guide for Moses in the Cradle:

Thrives in bright, indirect light but can tolerate lower light conditions. Avoid direct sunlight, as it can scorch the leaves.

Prefers temperatures between 60-75°F (15-24°C). It can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures but should be protected from frost.

Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again. Reduce watering during the winter months.

Moses in the Cradle enjoys higher humidity levels, but it can adapt to average household humidity.

Well-draining potting mix is essential. A mix of regular potting soil with perlite or orchid bark can be suitable.

During the growing season (spring and summer), feed with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. Reduce feeding in fall and winter.

Repot every 1-2 years, or when the plant outgrows its current container. Choose a pot that is 1-2 inches larger in diameter.

Trim back leggy or overgrown stems to encourage bushier growth. Remove any dead or yellowing leaves regularly.

Moses in the Cradle can be propagated through stem cuttings. Place the cuttings in water or directly in soil.

Pests and Diseases:
This plant is relatively pest-resistant, but it can be susceptible to common houseplant pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. Keep an eye out for any signs of infestations.

Moses in the Cradle is considered mildly toxic to pets and humans. Ingesting the leaves can cause stomach discomfort, so it’s best to keep it out of reach of pets and children.

Common Issues:
Overwatering can lead to root rot, while underwatering can cause wilting and leaf drop. Adjust your watering routine accordingly.

Types of Plectranthus

The Plectranthus genus encompasses a diverse group of plants, commonly known as spurflowers or Swedish ivy. Here are some notable types of Plectranthus:

  • Plectranthus scutellarioides (formerly Solenostemon scutellarioides): Also known as coleus, this species is immensely popular for its vibrant and colorful foliage. There are numerous cultivars with various leaf shapes, colors, and patterns, making it a favorite choice for ornamental gardening.

  • Plectranthus amboinicus (Indian Borage): This succulent herb is known for its aromatic leaves, which are used in culinary dishes and traditional medicine. It’s native to Southern and Eastern Africa, but has naturalized in many tropical and subtropical regions around the world.

  • Plectranthus verticillatus (Swedish Ivy): A trailing or cascading plant with glossy, rounded leaves, Swedish Ivy is often grown as a hanging plant. It’s relatively low-maintenance and can be an attractive addition to indoor or outdoor gardens.

  • Plectranthus ciliatus (Speckled Spurflower): This species is characterized by its toothed leaves with a distinctive purple underside. It’s native to South Africa and is often cultivated for its ornamental appeal.

  • Plectranthus neochilus (Fly Repellent Plant): As the name suggests, this plant is known for its strong scent that deters flies. It has small, fuzzy leaves and is native to South Africa.

  • Plectranthus forsteri (Forster’s Spurflower): Native to Madagascar, this species has velvety, textured leaves with unique patterns. It’s a striking ornamental plant, often grown for its distinctive foliage.

  • Plectranthus tomentosa (Vicks Plant): Another aromatic species, the leaves of the Vicks Plant emit a menthol-like scent when crushed. It’s used for its aromatic properties and is native to Southern Africa.

  • Plectranthus argentatus (Silver Spurflower): This species is known for its silvery-gray foliage, which adds an elegant touch to gardens. It’s native to Australia and is prized for its drought tolerance.

  • Plectranthus ecklonii (Large Spurflower): Native to South Africa, this species features attractive, serrated leaves and produces spikes of tubular flowers. It’s a popular choice for garden borders and landscaping.

  • Plectranthus madagascariensis (Madagascar Spurflower): With deeply lobed leaves and a sprawling growth habit, this species is native to Madagascar. It’s often used for ground cover in gardens.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Common pests and plant diseases can pose significant challenges to gardeners and plant enthusiasts. Here are some of the most prevalent ones:

Common Pests:

  • Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects feed on plant sap and can cause distorted growth and wilting. They often cluster on new growth and the undersides of leaves.

  • Whiteflies: Tiny, white insects that feed on plant sap. They leave a sticky residue called honeydew, which can attract mold.

  • Spider Mites: These are tiny arachnids that feed on plant sap, causing yellowing, stippling, and webbing on the plant.

  • Caterpillars: The larvae of butterflies and moths can chew on leaves, causing defoliation and damage.

  • Slugs and Snails: These mollusks feed on leaves, leaving irregular holes and damage.

  • Thrips: These slender insects can cause stippling, discoloration, and deformities in leaves.

  • Mealybugs: Small, cottony insects that suck sap from plants, leading to weakened growth and yellowing.

  • Scale Insects: These immobile pests attach themselves to stems and leaves, sucking sap and causing yellowing and weakened growth.

  • Fungus Gnats: These tiny flies lay eggs in the soil. The larvae feed on roots and can lead to stunted growth and yellowing.

  • Japanese Beetles: These metallic-green beetles can skeletonize leaves by eating the tissue between veins.

Common Plant Diseases:

  • Powdery Mildew: A white, powdery fungus that appears on leaves, inhibiting photosynthesis.

  • Downy Mildew: A fungal disease that causes yellowing and wilting of leaves, often accompanied by a fuzzy growth on the underside.

  • Botrytis Blight (Gray Mold): This fungus causes wilting, browning, and rotting of flowers, stems, and leaves.

  • Root Rot: This can be caused by various pathogens and overwatering, leading to weakened and wilting plants.

  • Leaf Spot: Various fungi and bacteria can cause dark spots on leaves, which can lead to defoliation.

  • Verticillium Wilt: A soil-borne fungus that blocks water uptake, causing wilting and yellowing.

  • Bacterial Blight: Bacteria can cause wilting, leaf spots, and cankers on stems.

  • Rust: This fungal disease appears as orange, powdery spots on leaves, often leading to defoliation.

  • Fire Blight: A bacterial disease that affects fruit trees, causing wilting, blackened branches, and a scorched appearance.

  • Phytophthora Root Rot: This water-mold pathogen infects roots, causing wilting, stunting, and eventual death.

Common Problems with ‘Moses in the Cradle’

“Moses in the Cradle” (Tradescantia spathacea) is a striking plant known for its distinctive foliage and hardy nature. However, like any plant, it can face certain issues. Here are some common problems you may encounter with Moses in the Cradle:

  • Overwatering: One of the most common issues with Moses in the Cradle is overwatering. This plant prefers to dry out slightly between waterings, so consistently soggy soil can lead to root rot and other problems.

  • Underwatering: On the flip side, neglecting to water the plant when it needs it can lead to dehydration and wilting.

  • Poor Drainage: Inadequate drainage can lead to waterlogged soil, which is detrimental to the roots. Ensure the pot has drainage holes and use well-draining soil.

  • Insufficient Light: While Moses in the Cradle can tolerate lower light conditions, it thrives in bright, indirect light. Insufficient light can result in leggy growth and faded leaf color.

  • Direct Sunlight: Too much direct sunlight, especially in hot climates, can scorch the leaves. It’s best to provide filtered or dappled sunlight.

  • Cold Temperatures: This plant is sensitive to cold temperatures. If exposed to temperatures below 50°F (10°C), it can suffer from damage or even die back.

  • Pests: Aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs are potential pests that can affect Moses in the Cradle. Regularly inspect the plant for signs of infestation and take appropriate measures to control them.

  • Disease: Overwatering or poor ventilation can lead to fungal diseases like powdery mildew or root rot. Ensure good air circulation and avoid overwatering to prevent these issues.

  • Nutrient Deficiency: If the plant’s leaves start to lose color or develop yellowing, it may indicate a nutrient deficiency. Consider feeding with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer.

  • Transplant Shock: Moving the plant to a new pot or location can sometimes cause temporary stress. Ensure proper care during the transition period.

  • Improper Pruning: While Moses in the Cradle doesn’t require extensive pruning, removing dead or damaged leaves can help maintain its overall health and appearance. However, excessive pruning can stress the plant.

What is the scientific name of the Moses-in-the-Cradle plant?

The scientific name of the Moses-in-the-Cradle plant is Tradescantia spathacea.

Where is the Moses-in-the-Cradle plant native to?

The Moses-in-the-Cradle plant is native to regions in Central America, specifically Belize, Guatemala, and parts of southern Mexico including Tabasco, Chiapas, and the Yucatan Peninsula.

What are some common alternative names for the Moses-in-the-Cradle plant?

The Moses-in-the-Cradle plant is also known by other names such as Boat Lily, Cradle Lily, Oyster plant, and sometimes referred to as the “Bloaty”.

Can Moses-in-the-Cradle plants be grown indoors?

Yes, Moses-in-the-Cradle plants are well-suited for indoor cultivation and are a popular choice among houseplant enthusiasts.

What are the ideal growing conditions for Moses-in-the-Cradle plants?

These plants thrive in well-draining soil, with moderate sunlight exposure, and require regular but not excessive watering. They can tolerate a range of temperatures but prefer warmer conditions.

How do I propagate Moses-in-the-Cradle plants?

Moses-in-the-Cradle plants can be propagated through stem cuttings or by division. Both methods are relatively straightforward and can lead to new, healthy plants.

Are there any common pests or diseases that affect Moses-in-the-Cradle plants?

While they are generally hardy, Moses-in-the-Cradle plants can be susceptible to pests like spider mites or mealybugs. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so it’s important to monitor their watering needs.


The Moses-in-the-Cradle plant, scientifically known as Tradescantia spathacea, is a captivating species that has found its way into the hearts of garden enthusiasts around the world. Its origins in the lush landscapes of Central America, particularly Belize, Guatemala, and parts of Mexico, lend it an air of mystery and allure.

With a variety of charming aliases like Boat Lily, Cradle Lily, Oyster plant, and the endearing “Bloaty,” this plant has earned a special place in the world of ornamental flora. Its adaptability to indoor environments makes it a popular choice for houseplant enthusiasts seeking to add a touch of exotic elegance to their spaces.

Cultivating the Moses-in-the-Cradle plant is a gratifying endeavor. Providing well-draining soil, moderate sunlight, and a balanced watering routine allows it to flourish. Propagation through stem cuttings or division offers opportunities for growers to expand their collection.

Mary Lloyster

Mary Lloyster

Mary, the ultimate oracle of indoor gardening! With years of experience and a flourishing indoor expo, Mary has become our go-to expert for all things related to house plants and indoor gardening. Despite her background in Political Science, Mary has discovered a delightful way to blend her full-time job with a touch of relaxation through indoor gardening. Now, she eagerly shares her wisdom and experiences with our readers on a daily basis. If you have any inquiries about house plants, indoor gardening techniques, or caring tips, don't hesitate to leave a comment for Mary in the designated section below!

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