Tradescantia spathacea

Common Name: boat lily 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Commelinaceae
Native Range: Southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala
Zone: 9 to 11
Height: 0.50 to 1.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: White with blue blush
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Ground Cover, Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Colorful, Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest


Winter hardy to USDA Zones 9-11 where it is noted for its ease of culture and tolerance for wide range of growing conditions. Best in filtered or part sun locations. Will grow in direct sun with some afternoon protection. Also grows in shade, but the foliage may not have as bright of colors and it may get leggy. Plants like a consistently moist but well-drained soil during the growing season, with reduced watering from fall to late winter. Plants also can grow well on rocky soils. Established plants have drought tolerance. Easily propagated by seeds, stem cuttings or division. Stem cuttings may also be used to create new potted plants. Plants may be pruned hard in very early spring if needed. In St. Louis, it is easily grown as a houseplant. Use a peaty, soil-based potting mix. Potted plants may be taken outside in summer.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Tradescantia spathacea, commonly called Moses-in-a-basket or oyster plant, is a clump-forming evergreen perennial that is native to southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It is widely cultivated in tropical areas because of its attractive foliage. It is commonly grown in the West Indies. It has shown invasive tendencies by escaping gardens and naturalizing in parts of Louisiana and Florida. It typically grows as a 6-12" tall rosette consisting of narrow, spirally arranged, linear-lanceolate, stiffly-ascending, sword-shaped, dark green leaves (to 6-12" long) with purple undersides. Plants will spread to form a dense ground cover over time. White flowers in axillary cymes are enclosed by long-lasting, boat-shaped, purple bracts, hence the common name of Moses-in-a-basket. Flowers bloom throughout the year. Flowers are followed by fruit (3-celled capsules). This plant is easily grown indoors in pots or containers.

Genus name honors John Tradescant (1570-1638) and his son John Tradescant (1608-1662), botanists and successive gardeners to Charles I of England.


Rot may occur if soils are kept too moist. Watch for mealybugs, scale, whiteflies and spider mites.


As a houseplant, grow in hanging baskets or along shelves. Outdoors, it forms an excellent ground cover. Rock gardens. Borders.