Skip to Content

How to Care for an Oyster Plant

Gorgeous foliage of an oyster plant growing in the garden

Tradescantia Spathacea

Tradescantia spathacea could possibly be one of the best houseplants you could ever find. These evergreen perennial flowering plants are easy to care for, and are known for having super eye catching foliage.

The most common name for tradescantia spathacea (or rhoeo spathacea) is an oyster plant, but they go by a ton of other names including: boat lily, Moses in the cradle, or tricolor moses. This is a herbaceous plant that is part of the commelinaceae botanical family, better known as the spiderwort family.

This oyster plant is not to be confused with a salsify plant (tragopogon porrifolius) or a bluebell (mertensia maritima) which are also called oyster plants for different reasons.

Throughout this article we’ll go through all of the most important details of what oyster plants are, where they come from, and how to grow some of your very own! They are sure to be your next favorite houseplant.

What do Oyster Plants Look Like?

Rainbow leaves of the beautiful oyster plant

Growth Habit

Oyster plants are herbaceous perennial plants that grow from underground, fleshy rhizomes. These rhizomes help the plant survive extended periods of drought and very hot temperatures.

From a rhizome will grow that characteristic rosette of evergreens leaves. Each left will grow to be around 1 foot in length, which is what makes up the overall height of the plant. There are some dwarf oyster plant varieties that will only grow to be about 6 inches in height.

Leaves

The most ornamental feature of an oyster plant it its leaves. They are evergreen, meaning that they will remain green (or a variety of colors) the entire year and will not fall away, like a deciduous plant species would.

See also  25 Different Types of Delphiniums

Each oyster leaf is lance shaped, and will be about 3 inches wide and a foot long. The green leaves makeup a rosette and have a waxy texture to them. Leaves are usually a gorgeous metallic green on the upper side, with a glossy purple on the under side.

Super close up image of a tiny white flower of the oyster plant nestled in leaves

Flowers

This is one of those plants that is more admired for its foliage rather than its leaves. This is because oyster flowers are very inconspicuous and are hardly noticed!

These flowers grow at the very base of the basal rosette of leaves and are very small with a white or light pink flower color. They are said to look identical to spiderwort blossoms.

An oyster plant flower will usually bloom starting in the early spring and last all the way to late fall (but will perish before the first threat of frost).

Oyster plants are also a perennial plant type, meaning that they will continuously provide flower blossoms every spring as long as their ideal growing conditions are maintained!

Where is the Oyster Plant a Native Plant?

Beautiful leaves of the oyster plant growing wild in sandy coast

One of the most valuable things that I have learned as a gardener is that learning where a plant grows wild, really helps you understand how to keep it happy in other parts of the world.

Oysters are native plants to Central America, but has become naturalized all over North America as well. They grow wild in Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and the West Indies, and are very popular garden plants in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Hawaii.

These plants can grow outdoors all year long in USDA zone 9 through 12, but should be brought indoors for the colder months in all other zones.

See also  75 Brilliant Backyard & Landscape Lighting Ideas

It is also important to note that oyster plants are listed as an invasive species in Florida. They are invasive but have yet to cause detriment to the local plant life.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions of Oyster Plants?

Now that we know all of the basic information about oyster plants, it’s time to learn just how easy it is to care for one of your very own. They can be planted in your garden or in a container, but there are a few things to keep in mind for oyster plant care:

Big oyster plants growing in a nursery next to other plant life

Soil Type

Though they will be happy pretty much anywhere, oyster plants will tend to perform better when they are planted in soil that is slightly rich, slightly acidic, and very well draining.

They perform very well when they are in loamy/sandy soil or rocky soil. A great way to achieve this is by incorporating some sand and compost to the potting mix.

Compost will increase drainage and increase the nutrient level of the soil, and the sand will further increase the drainage of the soil.

Water Level

One of the more tricky things to maintain is the water level for your oyster plant. They don’t require too much watering, but they also don’t like to be fully dried out. Over watering can easily result in root rot.

During their active growing season, oyster plants should be receiving a fair amount of water. Water your plant when the top 2 inches of the soil are dry. After their growing season, you can cut way back on watering when the plants go dormant in the winter.

See also  What is a Hebe Plant and How to Care for It?

Additionally, oyster plants really love to live in a high humidity environment. If you’re growing one inside, simply place a tray with pebbles and water underneath the pot, and that will mimic humidity.

Focus image on tiny white flowers of an oyster plant

Sun Exposure

The amount of sun exposure that an oyster plant would want to receive will vary depending on the growing region of the plant. For example, if they are living in a hot region, they will need protection from the hot afternoon sun and can’t live in direct sunlight.

The ideal amount of sun exposure is bright indirect sunlight. Full sun will do in less hot regions, and partial shade is better for super hot regions. Bright light tends to bring out them moist vibrant foliage color, whereas partial shade can sometimes result in a leggier plant.

Temperature

One thing that oyster plants are super specific about is temperature! They are by no means a cold hardy plant. They will not survive winter and they are not tolerant to frost.

These plants can exist outdoors in USDA zones 9 through 12, but should absolutely be brought inside before any threat of frost. They seem to thrive when temperature ranges between 55 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

Oyster plants really don’t need fertilizer to thrive. Since you’ve (hopefully) already incorporated their potting mix or soil with compost, that should be more than enough nutrients for your plants.

Pruning

Another super low maintenance aspect of oyster plant care is pruning! These guys tend to grow in a superbly neat growth habit and you only need to pick away any dying leaves to keep it tidy looking.

See also  10 Flowers that Start with "I"

How do you Propagate an Oyster Plant?

Small and young oyster plant growing in the garden with sprouting foliage

Now that you’ve learned what helps keep an oyster plant happy, it’s time to learn how to propagate one of your very own! If you buy seed online there will be planting instructions right on the package, but we’re going to go through clipping propagation! Here are a few simple planting steps:

1. New shoots will pop up around the base of older plants. These can be picked away and planted into a new pot. (These specimens are the perfect container plant).

2. Wait until those young shoots reach 4 inches in height before picking them. Gently pull away their rootlets from the main root ball and plant it in another container.

3. Dig a hole that is a couple of inches deep and at least 6 inches apart form one another, depending on how densely packed you want your plants to be.

4. Place it in a south facing window with a sheer curtain and make sure that it is thoroughly watered as it is getting established.

5. If planting outdoors, wait until the late spring, after the last threat of frost has passed. Pick an area that receives very partial shade (especially in the later afternoon) and with well draining soil.

And there you have it! Some very simple planting instructions to help get you going on your very own oyster plant. Caring for these guys is minimal, and they will reward you with colorful foliage the whole year long.

Amazing evergreen leaves of the oyster plant

FAQs

Are oyster plants deer resistant?

Another positive aspect to oyster plants is the fact that they are resistant to grazing from larger pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels.

See also  What is a Scotch Pine Tree?

What are the damaging agents to oyster plants?

Oyster plants are unfortunately rather susceptible to pest infestations from pests like spider mites, aphids, and white flies. They are also susceptible to root rot if they are over watered.

Are oyster plants annuals or perennials?

Oyster plants are a perennial plant type. This means that they bear flowers that will continue to blossom year after year, as long as the ideal growing conditions of the plant are met and maintained.

Can oyster plant roots be eaten?

The oyster plant under the scientific name of tradescantia spathacea is often confused with the salsify plant, with the scientific name tragopogon porrifolius.

The salsify plant is known as being a root vegetable with an edible root that is said to taste just like oyster meat, which is where it got the common name of oyster plant. The former plant species does not have an edible root and is not a root vegetable.

Are oyster plants considered an invasive species?

It is also important to note that oyster plants are listed as an invasive species in Florida. They are invasive but have yet to cause detriment to the local plant life.

Can oyster plants take full sun?

The amount of sun exposure that an oyster plant would want to receive will vary depending on the growing region of the plant. For example, if they are living in a hot region, they will need protection from the hot afternoon sun and can’t live in direct sunlight.

The ideal amount of sun exposure is bright indirect sunlight. Full sun will do in less hot regions, and partial shade is better for super hot regions. Bright light tends to bring out them moist vibrant foliage color, whereas partial shade can sometimes result in a leggier plant.

See also  9 Different Types of Malva Flowers

Can oyster plants be divided?

New shoots will pop up around the base of older plants. These can be picked away and planted into a new pot. (These specimens are the perfect container plant).

Wait until those young shoots reach 4 inches in height before picking them. Gently pull away their rootlets from the main root ball and plant it in another container.

Dig a hole that is a couple of inches deep and at least 6 inches apart form one another, depending on how densely packed you want your plants to be.

Can oyster plants be grown indoors?

Oyster plants are actually a very popular houseplant because they sometimes seem to be happier indoors than outdoors! As long as they are given well draining soil and placed in a south facing window (with bright light) they can live their entire lives very happily indoors.

How tall does an oyster plant get?

From a rhizome will grow that characteristic rosette of evergreens leaves. Each left will grow to be around 1 foot in length, which is what makes up the overall height of the plant. There are some dwarf oyster plant varieties that will only grow to be about 6 inches in height.

How fast does an oyster plant grow?

Oyster plants are wonderfully fast growing and can reach their full size in just under a year. After they are first planted, foliage should start to appear in 3-5 weeks.

Do oyster plants need fertilizer?

Oyster plants really don’t need fertilizer to thrive. Since you’ve (hopefully) already incorporated their potting mix or soil with compost, that should be more than enough nutrients for your plants.

See also  12 Different Types of Poppies - Do You Know Them All?

When do oyster plant flowers bloom?

An oyster plant flower will usually bloom starting in the early spring and last all the way to late fall (but will perish before the first threat of frost).

Oyster plants are also a perennial plant type, meaning that they will continuously provide flower blossoms every spring as long as their ideal growing conditions are maintained!

How often should an oyster plant be watered?

One of the more tricky things to maintain is the water level for your oyster plant. They don’t require too much watering, but they also don’t like to be fully dried out. Over watering can easily result in root rot.

During their active growing season, oyster plants should be receiving a fair amount of water. Water your plant when the top 2 inches of the soil are dry. After their growing season, you can cut way back on watering when the plants go dormant in the winter.

Additionally, oyster plants really love to live in a high humidity environment. If you’re growing one inside, simply place a tray with pebbles and water underneath the pot, and that will mimic humidity.

What are some other common names for oyster plants?

The most common name for tradescantia spathacea (or rhoeo spathacea) is an oyster plant, but they go by a ton of other names including: boat lily, Moses in the cradle, or tricolor moses. This is a herbaceous plant that is part of the commelinaceae botanical family, better known as the spiderwort family.

This oyster plant is not to be confused with a salsify plant (tragopogon porrifolius) or a bluebell (mertensia maritima) which are also called oyster plants for different reasons.

See also  How to Create a Landscape Design Blueprint for Your Yard

What USDA zone can oyster plants live in?

Oysters are native plants to Central America, but has become naturalized all over North America as well. They grow wild in Belize, Guatemala, Mexico, and the West Indies, and are very popular garden plants in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Hawaii.

These plants can grow outdoors all year long in USDA zone 9 through 12, but should be brought indoors for the colder months in all other zones.

What is the ideal soil type for an oyster plant?

Though they will be happy pretty much anywhere, oyster plants will tend to perform better when they are planted in soil that is slightly rich, slightly acidic, and very well draining.

They perform very well when they are in loamy/sandy soil or rocky soil. A great way to achieve this is by incorporating some sand and compost to the potting mix.

Compost will increase drainage and increase the nutrient level of the soil, and the sand will further increase the drainage of the soil.

Why is my oyster plant leggy?

If you plant an oyster plant in an area that receives too much shade, the plant will attempt to grow in the direction of the sun. This can result in a leggy plant that has a higher chance of tipping over. If they are planted in bright light they will maintain their regular, neat growth habit.