Singapore Government Logo

A Singapore Government Agency Website

Tradescantia spathacea


Tradescantia spathacea Sw.

Family Name: Commelinaceae
Synonyms: Rhoeo discolor, Tradescantia discolor, Rhoeo spathacea
Common Name: Boat Lily, Oyster Plant, Cradle Lily, Moses-in-the-Cradle, Moses in His Cradle, Moses on a Raft, Moses in the Bulrushes, Men in a Boat, 蚌花, 紫背万年青, 荷包花


Family Name
Genus Epithet
Species Epithet
Name Authority
Name Status (botanical)
Common Names

Classifications and Characteristics

Plant Division Angiosperms (Flowering Seed Plants) (Monocotyledon)
Plant Growth Form Herbaceous Plant, Creeper
Lifespan (in Singapore) Perennial
Mode of Nutrition Autotrophic
Maximum Height 0.3 m to 0.5 m


Native Distribution West Indies, Southern Mexico, Guatemala
Preferred Climate Zone Tropical

Description and Ethnobotany

Growth Form Semi-epiphytic herbaceous plant with underground rhizomes and clumping rosette form.
Foliage Leaves long and sword-shaped, dark teal green on top, vivid purple on underside, waxy and fleshy.
Stems Trunk-like, short and stout, nearly hidden by overlapping leaves.
Flowers Flowers small, white, nestled in purple boat-shaped bracts, produced whole year round at leaf axils.
Fruits Fruits are capsules with 2 seeds.
Cultivation Provide good drainage to prevent root rot. Propagate by stem-cuttings, seeds or division. Watery sap may result in skin stinging and itching in sensitive individuals or animals. Plant should not be eaten raw, as sap can cause burning pain in mouth and throat.
Etymology Genus epithet 'Tradescantia' named after John Tradescant, gardener for King Charles I of England. Species epithet 'spathacea' means 'with a spathe', describing the spathe-like bract holding the flowers.
Ethnobotanical Uses Edible Plant Parts (Edible Leaves)
Food (Herb and Spice)
Medicinal (

Scientific Evidence of Medicinal Properties

In pre-clinical trials, Boat Lily showed anti-cancer (Rosales-Reyes et al., 2008), anti-diabetic (Jesetti et al., 2020) and anti-inflammation (Pérez et al., 1996) in animals.

Traditional Medicinal Uses

Research supports the traditional use of Boat Lily to treat cough, bronchitis and sprains. Other traditional uses include treating fever, amenorrhea, headache and rheumatism. 

It is important to note that some therapeutic effects from traditional medicinal uses of plants are not currently supported or verified by scientific research. 

Caution: Astringent sap may cause stinging and itching in susceptible individuals and animals. Do not eat the plant raw, as sap may cause mouth and throat pain.




Landscaping Features

Desirable Plant Features Ornamental Foliage
Plant & Rootzone Preference - Tolerance Easy to Grow, Dry Soils / Drought, Fertile Loamy Soils, Well-Drained Soils, Poor Infertile Soils, Shallow Media (8 -10cm)
Landscape Uses Container Planting, Green Roof, Interiorscape/ Indoor Plant, General, Flowerbed / Border
Thematic Landscaping Economic Garden
SGMP Treatment
Usage Hazard - Cons Irritant - Sap
Usage Hazard - Cons Remarks Astringent sap may cause stinging and itching in susceptible individuals and animals. Do not eat plant raw, as sap can cause pain in mouth and throat.

Plant Care and Propagation

Light Preference Semi-Shade, Full Sun
Water Preference Moderate Water
Plant Growth Rate Fast
Maintenance Requirements Moderate
Potential Problems Prone to root rot, if soil is not well-drained.
Propagation Method Seed, Stem Cutting, Sucker, Division
Propagation Method Remarks Rhizomes


Foliage Retention Evergreen
Mature Foliage Colour(s) Green, Purple
Mature Foliage Texture(s) Smooth, Thick
Foliar Type Simple / Unifoliate
Foliar Arrangement Along Stem Whorled
Foliar Shape(s) Non-Palm Foliage (Linear)
Foliar Venation Parallel
Foliar Margin Entire
Foliar Apex - Tip Acute
Foliar Base Truncate / Square
Typical Foliar Area Mesophyll ( 45cm2 - 182.25 cm2 )
Leaf Area Index (LAI) for Green Plot Ratio 3.5 (Shrub & Groundcover - Monocot)

Non - Foliar and Storage

Stem Type & Modification Herbaceous
Root Type Underground (Fibrous Root)
Specialised Storage Organ(s) Underground (Rhizome), Aboveground

Floral (Angiosperm)

Flower & Plant Sexuality 1 Bisexual Flowers
Flower Colour(s) White
Flowering Habit Polycarpic

Fruit, Seed and Spore

Fruit Classification Simple Fruit
Fruit Type 1 Dehiscent Dry Fruit
Fruit Type 2 Capsule

Image Repository



Master ID 1231
Species ID 2524
Flora Disclaimer The information in this website has been compiled from reliable sources, such as reference works on medicinal plants. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment and NParks does not purport to provide any medical advice. Readers should always consult his/her physician before using or consuming a plant for medicinal purposes.
Species record last updated on: 02 October 2022.