Everything You Need to Know About Growing & Caring for Moses in the Cradle Plants

Moses in the Cradle, or Tradescantia spathacea, is an attractive plant often referred to as structural for its stiff leaves. Combine the attractive form with eye-catching green and purple colors and it’s no wonder it’s popular. Moses in the Cradle is a warmth-loving plant, so it’s best kept as a houseplant in most areas. Give your Tradescantia plant the right care to see it grow and flourish with this complete guide.

Contents:


Moses in the Cradle Care Summary

Moses in the Cradle requires warm temperatures of 60 to 85 degrees F and high humidity around 70%. Allow the plant to dry out to the first two inches of soil, then soak thoroughly with distilled or rainwater. Provide indirect but bright light for at least 6 to 8 hours a day, especially if flowering is desired.


About Moses in the Cradle Plants (Tradescantia spathacea)

About Moses in the Cradle Plants (Tradescantia spathacea)

Origins and History

This plant was first described by botanists in 1788 and became popular as an outdoor and indoor plant in the 1800s. While it is only native to southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, it has naturalized outdoors in the warmest parts of the US as well. It’s hardy to zone 9, but it’s considered invasive and should only be grown indoors.

Cultivars for Houseplants

The dwarf cultivar is the most commonly sold variety for houseplant use since it’s relatively compact. The full-sized version can grow up to three feet tall in good conditions, so the dwarf variety is a better choice for most people. ‘Tricolor’ is a popular cultivar as well that features a contrasting white and green stripe down the front of the leaf and extra vivid purple on the back.

Flowering Moses in the Cradle

Moses in the Cradle does bloom, but the blooms appear near the stem tucked between the leaves. You’ll need to know where to look to appreciate their beauty. Indirect but bright light for at least eight hours a day is the biggest requirement for flowering. This also ensures the strongest leaf color, keeping the plant as beautiful as possible.

Lifespan of Tradescantia spathacea Plants

Some Moses in the Cradle plants have been recorded to live up to 25 years, but not more. In general, you can expect a decade or so of reliable growth from a plant with good care. If you feel your Moses in the Cradle is getting worn out or old, you can always take a cutting and propagate a new plant to start over fresh. Tradescantia spathacea is very easy to root in soil or water, making it a fun plant to propagate.

Moses in the Cradle Toxicity

Moses in the Cradle plants are considered toxic to humans and pets. It can cause contact dermatitis when in contact with bare skin and is highly irritating if eaten. Pets or children that consume a leaf will likely need medical treatment, although permanent injuries are unlikely. Keep this plant well out of reach of anyone curious and wear gloves when handling it.

Uses and Benefits of Moses in the Cradle

Moses in the Cradle isn’t edible or medicinal due to its toxicity, so it’s primarily used for its decorative value instead. Its height and spiky look help it stand out among other houseplants.


Moses in the Cradle Plants (Tradescantia spathacea) Meaning & Symbolism

The plant’s common name is taken from the appearance of its flowers. They’re shaped like a little boat or cradle and tucked into the spiky leaves. This brings to mind the Biblical story of baby Moses being found in the spiky rushes along the river bank. Other spiritual groups use the plant to represent the hidden power of divinity since the flowers are somewhat hidden.


How to Grow Moses in the Cradle Plants at Home

How to Grow Moses in the Cradle Plants at Home

Before deciding that a Moses in the Cradle is the right plant for you, consider their final size and care requirements.

Moses in the Cradle Growth Expectations

Most Tradescantia spathacea plants sold as houseplants are a dwarf cultivar, so they should only get between 6 and 12 inches in maximum height. Larger cultivars may reach three feet in height total. This plant grows relatively slow, so it takes 2 to 5 years for most plants to get fully grown. Once a Moses in the Cradle reaches its maximum size, it’ll simply continue replacing its leaves and start making new shoots. This can make the plant leggy, so many people choose to take cuttings and start new plants at that point.

Planting Prep

Planting a new Moses in the Cradle plant is relatively easy. Start with a rapid draining vessel and don’t add any materials to the bottom of the pot. They’re well-suited to hanging planters and pots since they’re lightweight and limited in size. Make sure whether you hang it or sit it on a table it’ll get the right kind of light.

Soil Mix for Moses in the Cradle

The Best Soil Mix for house plants

The soil needs to hold water without rotting its roots, so stick with mixes that are mostly peat moss. Mix one part peat moss with one part perlite and one part well-aged compost. If you aren’t up for homemade potting mix, simply look for any high-quality general houseplant mix.

How to Plant Moses in the Cradle

Once you have a 6 to 8 inch pot filled with the appropriate soil mix, it’s as simple as nestling the plant in and watering it. Try using a chopstick or small trowel to ease the roots in if the plant is small. It’s easy to tell where the roots end on a Tradescantia spathacea plant. Make sure to only bury the plant to where the stem starts and keep all the leaves above the soil.

Moses in the Cradle Light Preferences

One of the trickiest parts of raising Moses in the Cradle indoors is giving it the right light. These plants need bright light for 6 to 8 hours a day. However, direct light quickly burns them and bleaches out the beautiful colors from the leaves. Make sure the light is indirect and never falls directly on the plant. Placing the plant near a Southern or Western exposure will work if you add a screen or sheer curtain. This keeps the light from getting too intense for the leaves. Eastern and Northern exposures should provide indirect enough light all day not to risk sunburn.

Temperature & Humidity for Moses in the Cradle

As a plant from hot and humid environments, Moses in the Cradle needs warmth all year round. Misting it or using a humidity tray is recommended unless you keep it covered or in a humidified room. They typically grow best and have the highest chance of flowering when in 60% to 70% humidity at least. Keep the temperatures between 60 and 85 degrees F, with any dips below 60 potentially damaging the plant.


How to Care for Moses in the Cradle Plants (Tradescantia spathacea):

How to Care for Moses in the Cradle Plants (Tradescantia spathacea)

Moses in the Cradle shares similar care requirements with many other plants from the spiderwort family it belongs to. Give it just the right amount of water and fertilizer to keep growth steady without risking disease.

How To Water Moses in the Cradle Plants

It’s fairly simple to keep this plant watered if you check it regularly and use fast-draining soil. Simply check the first two inches of the soil and water as soon as they dry out. This keeps the Tradescantia spathacea well-watered without running the risk of root rot. Keeping the plant properly humidified can stretch this watering to twice a month, especially in winter when plants need less water. Hot and dry weather may lead to weekly watering requirements. Don’t fall into a habit without checking the soil since Moses in the Cradle can die quickly if allowed to get too dry for too long. Use distilled water or rainwater to ensure minerals and salts don’t build up in the soil.

Fertilization Routines

Moses in the Cradle plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer, but they do need a steady supply throughout the summer. Use half the recommended strength of a general purpose houseplant fertilizer and apply monthly. Stop applying the fertilizer a month or two before temperatures begin to drop.

Pruning

This plant generally doesn’t need or respond well to pruning except when it’s leggy. Chopping the excess growth off the top can force some growth from the bottom again. This is mostly done to root the cuttings into new plants however and not generally as a tactic for maintaining a plant. If you must prune, don’t remove more than 10% of this plant at a time.

Propagating New Tradescantia spathacea

Any tip you cut off that has a few inches of stem and at least three leaves or leaf nodules has a chance to root. For the best propagation chances, try a five to six-leaf section. Start with a section with a few extra leaves and trim those off to reveal a small section of stem. Insert this stem into water or soil and cover the cutting with a plastic bag. After a week or two the cutting should be rooted and ready to plant.

When and How to Repot

Like most houseplants, Tradescantia spathacea doesn’t mind being squeezed slightly by a small pot. Only repot them every few years when you see the roots tightly packed against the sides of the vessel. Move up a half inch at a time to encourage good root growth without smothering or drowning them. A Moses in the Cradle plant will generally only need a 12 inch pot at most at maximum size.


Common Problems & How to Treat Them

Common Problems & How to Treat Them

Watching your houseplant for signs of common problems will help you react before it’s too late. Keep your eye on your Moses in the Cradle plant for these issues.

Underwatering

If this plant doesn’t get enough water, the spiky leaves will droop and turn brown and dry at the tips. Watering them isn’t enough if the humidity in the air is low. Improve both humidity and watering frequency if you see a drooping plant.

Overwatering

Overwatered Moses in the Cradle plants lose their color and drop leaves. The leaves may yellow or die off from the tip without appearing particularly dry. This indicates root rot, which can be visible as brown or black patches on the roots. Let the plant dry out and consider changing to a better draining potting mix.

Light Levels

With either too much or too little light the Tradescantia spathacea quickly loses its color. Faded plants can be revived by adjustments to create just the right indirect but bright conditions. Using supplemental lighting is usually easier than trying to get the perfect light from a natural source.

Pests

Like all spiderworts, Moses in the Cradle plants are fairly pest resistant. Spider mites and mealy bugs can both move in and leave messy white deposits on the leaves. Wipe the plants weekly with diluted rubbing alcohol to kill off pest infestations.

Lack of Blooming

Blooming in Tradescantia spathacea is triggered by getting enough indirect light each day. If there’s not at least six to eight hours of bright conditions, the flowers won’t form. Focus on high temperature and humidity as well to coax out a display.


Essential Tools to Have Around

Essential House Plant Tools

With little need for pruning or special treatment, you should simply keep a pair of gloves around to handle the plant. Any general liquid houseplant fertilizer will help feed the plant. Invest in a small humidifier or humidity tray as well. Finally, sharp scissors help with propagation.


Wrap Up

Moses in the Cradle will reward with many years of beautiful growth in return for some basic care. Keep your plants healthy with these practices.


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Moses in the Cradle (Tradescantia spathacea) FAQ:

Moses in the Cradle requires warm temperatures of 60 to 85 degrees F and high humidity around 70%. Allow the plant to dry out to the first two inches of soil, then soak thoroughly with distilled or rainwater. Provide indirect but bright light for at least 6 to 8 hours a day, especially if flowering is desired.

Moses in the Cradle plants are considered toxic to humans and pets. It can cause contact dermatitis when in contact with bare skin and is highly irritating if eaten. Pets or children that consume a leaf will likely need medical treatment, although permanent injuries are unlikely. Keep this plant well out of reach of anyone curious and wear gloves when handling it.

The soil needs to hold water without rotting its roots, so stick with mixes that are mostly peat moss. Mix one part peat moss with one part perlite and one part well-aged compost. If you aren’t up for homemade potting mix, simply look for any high-quality general houseplant mix.

Moses in the Cradle plants needs bright light for 6 to 8 hours a day. However, direct light quickly burns them and bleaches out the beautiful colors from the leaves. Make sure the light is indirect and never falls directly on the plant. Placing the plant near a Southern or Western exposure will work if you add a screen or sheer curtain. This keeps the light from getting too intense for the leaves. Eastern and Northern exposures should provide indirect enough light all day not to risk sunburn.

Any tip you cut off that has a few inches of stem and at least three leaves or leaf nodules has a chance to root. For the best propagation chances, try a five to six-leaf section. Start with a section with a few extra leaves and trim those off to reveal a small section of stem. Insert this stem into water or soil and cover the cutting with a plastic bag. After a week or two, the cutting should be rooted and ready to plant.

Whilst Moses in the Cradle plants are only native to southern Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, it has naturalized outdoors in the warmest parts of the US as well. It’s hardy to zone 9, but it’s considered invasive so is generally better to be grown indoors.

Most Tradescantia spathacea plants should as houseplants are a dwarf cultivar, so they should only get between 6 and 12 inches in maximum height. Larger cultivars may reach three feet in height total. This plant grows relatively slow, so it takes 2 to 5 years for most plants to get fully grown. Once a Moses in the Cradle reaches its maximum size, it’ll simply continue replacing its leaves and start making new shoots. This can make the plant leggy, so many people choose to take cuttings and start new plants at that point.

Author

I’ve long been fascinated with the world of flowers, plants, and floral design. I come from a family of horticulturists and growers and spent much of my childhood in amongst the fields of flowering blooms and greenhouses filled with tropical plants, cacti, and succulents from all over the world. Today, my passion has led me to further explore the world of horticulture, botany, and floristry and I'm always excited to meet and collaborate with fellow enthusiasts and professionals from across the globe.

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