Tradescantia spathacea: Boatlily

Family: Commelinaceae
Common name: Boatlily, Moses-in-the-cradle, Rhoeo, Three men in a boat, Moses-in-a-basket, Moses-in-a-boat, Rhoeo spathacea

A very common succulent in Indian gardens, Boatlily plants can spread very quickly, providing a good groundcover for ledges or corners of your garden. They can grow to a height of about 1 foot with erect, waxy leaves that are green above and beautifully purple below.

The leaves crowd together in bright and beautiful rosettes, gradually growing in clumps. There are some species with variegated leaves having white or pink lines on the leaves, especially the edges. The Tricolor variant is exceptionally pretty with dark pink around the edges and gradients of green, white and pink at the center of the leaves.

Boatlily plants also produce small white flowers which are cradled inside boat-shaped bracts, giving the plant its unique names, Boatlily and Moses-in-a-cradle. The flowers are borne on short stalks that arise from the axils, the angle between the leaves and the stem.

Flowers have 4 distinct white petals and prominent stamens. Though the flowers are inconspicuous, they can attract butterflies and insects that help in pollinating them. Boatlily plants produce capsular fruits with small oblong seeds contained inside small compartments. These plants need well-drained soil and bright sunlight for at least 4-6 hours.

They are soft-stemmed plants that exude a clear sap with the stem is broken. This sap can cause allergies on contact and is toxic if ingested. Boatlilies are considered invasive plants since they can grow quickly, producing new growth from the root rhizomes, covering and smothering small seedlings. But they can be easily pulled out if the plant becomes too big to manage.

Propagation is from seeds that are dispersed by wind or water. And from stem cuttings which root easily. Even discarded pieces of the plant can grow roots conquering and spreading to new areas.

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