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How to grow and care for Boat Lily Indoors

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Houseplant, Boat Lily, Moses in the Cradle

Botanical name: Tradescantia spathacea
Synonym: Rhoeo spathacea
Family: Commelinaceae

Boat Lily also called Moses-in-the-Cradle, Moses-in-a-Boat, Cradle Lily or Oyster Plant is an easy to grow houseplant that is ideal for small spaces. It bears small white flowers in purple "boats" at the base of the lower leaves and hence the common names, "Moses-in-the-Cradle", "Boat Lily" and "Moses-in-a-Boat". If grown under good light, it flowers at any time of the year. It is low-growing plant with short stem. The leaves are fleshy, sword-shaped, glossy green with purplish-red undersides. Boat Lily is native to Mexico, West Indies and Central America. New varieties of Boat Lily have been developed like the spectacular cultivar Rhoeo discolor 'Variegata' which bears foliage that is striped in burgundy, pink, green and cream.

Other common species of Tradescantia are Tradescantia fluminensis (Inch Plant) whose undersides of leaves are pale purple (mauve) and it produces pale purple sap. Tradescantia pallida commonly called Purple Heart Plant or Purple Queen whose leaves are elongated, pointed, slightly hairy, glaucous green, fringed with red or purple. Tradescantia zebrina formely Zebrina pendula, (Silvery Inch Plant) whose leaves are glistening and multicolored above and purple below. The leaf surface colors are green and purple in Zebrina purpusii (Bronze Inch Plant); green, silver, pink and red in the showy but more difficult Zebrina pendula quadricolor.

How to Grow Boat Lily


Boat Lily prefers bright light but will grow in semi-shade (partial shade). Keep it away from direct sunshine as it can lead to scorching of the leaves. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.


Water Boat Lily thoroughly during the growing season and maintain the soil moist at all times. Reduce watering in cold weather to keep the soil slightly moist as growth is minimal. Avoid waterlogging as it can lead in root-rot. Learn more on how to water houseplants.


Average warmth with a minimum 130C is ideal for Boat Lily. Protect the plant from cold draughts.


Boat Lily has no for high humidity. Mist leaves occasionally or set pot on a wet pebble tray where the temperatures are too high to raise humidity.


Feed Boat Lily with a balanced water-soluble fertilizer every 4 weeks during the growing period. Withhold feeding during the cold season as growth is minimal and feeding at this time may lead to fertilizer burn. Learn more on feeding houseplants.


Repot Boat Lily during the growing season only when the plant has become pot-bound. Use a rich, free-draining soil and a pot one size larger. Ensure the pot has a drainage hole(s) to prevent waterlogging which can lead to root-rot.


Pruning Boat Lily involves regular removal of dead foliage to maintain the plant neat and tidy. To control the height of the plant and encourage bushyness, pinch the growing tips. Cut back leggy stems at the beginning of the growing season to rejuvenate growth.

How to Propagate Boat Lily

Boat Lily is propagated during the growing period by divison or from stem-cuttings.

Propagation of Boat Lily by division
Remove Boat Lily from its pot and carefully divide it into sections. Ensure each sections has adequate roots and at least one set of leaves. Pot up the sections in individual pots in free-draining soil. Place the set up in a cool shaded place and maintain the soil moist until new growth emerges. Allow the plant to be well established before transplanting.

Propagation of Boat Lily from stem cuttings
Stem cuttings root easily so there is no need for rooting hormone. Take a stem cutting from a healthy Boat Lily of about 3-5 in. and ensure it bears at least two sets of leaves. Insert it in moist free-draining soil and place in a cool shaded place. Maintain the soil moist through out until new growth emerges. Allow the plant to be well established before transplanting.

Common Problems in Growing Boat Lily

  • Brown and shrivelled leaf tips
  • The cause of this is too dry air especially where the temperatures are too high. To raise humidity for Boat Lily, mist the leaves more regularly or set the pot on a wet pebble tray.

  • Yellow and spotted leaves
  • Underwatering is the cause. Water Boat Lily liberally during the growing season and maintain the soil moist through out. Never allow the soil to dry out completely. Learn more on how to water houseplants.

  • No flowers
  • Boat Lily will not produce the white flowers where the light is too low. Move the plant to a brighter spot. Learn how to ensure your plant receives the correct light in this guide on understanding light for houseplants.

  • Diseases
  • Common diseases in Boat Lily are Root-rot and Leaf Spot.

  • Pests
  • Common pests in Boat Lily are Mealy Bugs and Red Spider Mites. Isolate the affected plant and treat appropriately. Mist the leaves regularly to reduce infestation by these pests.


Boat Lily is toxic to humans and pets. If ingested the plant sap causes burning in the mouth, tongue and throat. The sap may also cause skin irritation in sensitive skin; always wear gloves when handling.

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