Monday, January 28, 2019

OYSTER PLANT (Tradescantia spathacea)

Oyster Plant is a fairly common ground cover plant in Hawaii and often seen at commercial sites.  It does have a reputation for being colorful and hardy but it does need some care and thought about placement if you want a full and healthy ground coverage.

Oyster Plants at an entrance gate, Taveuni, Fiji

I have three kinds of Oyster Plant in my yard.  One is the taller 12"-18" high, green leaf with purple underneath, "regular" plant.  I remember seeing it growing wild on the Mayan temples at Tikal in Guatemala so am not surprised to learn that it is native to Central America and Mexico.  This plant will spread by seeding as well as by vegetative growth and may become invasive in the wrong place.

The regular wild type showing the flowers

The other two types of Oyster Plant I have in my garden are a dwarf 5"-8" high version of the "regular" type above and a dwarf tricolor variety with pink and green striped leaves with a lighter purple under the leaf.  I see pictures on the internet of a dwarf golden color Oyster Plant but I have never seen it here in Hawaii.

 My two dwarf varieties 

According to the internet, the dwarf varieties are sterile and I have never seen any seedling popping up from them while I have had them from the tall wild variety. Actually, I cannot even recall seeing flowers on the dwarf types.  The  tall "regular" Oyster Plant has little white flowers that turn into pouches of seed that can be crushed in your hand, when they are mature and dry, to sprinkle seeds around on the soil.  The Oyster Plant is quick to produce babies growing from the mother plant and so will quickly fill in spaces as a ground cover and will give lots of babies for you to cut off and pot up to grow more.  Make sure to get the whole of the stalk of the baby plant so that you have the root growing cells at the bottom of the stalk.

Although Oyster Plant is drought and sun tolerant, they will thrive in moist soil and in partial shade.  They will rot if left in soggy conditions.  It seems to me that when Oyster Plant is grown in full sun the planted area will end up looking sad with bald patches after awhile.  The plants do not do well close to foot paths as the plants get broken up if they get stepped on.  I do find that the big brown African snails like to eat and hide among the Oyster Plants in my garden so it is good to keep an eye out for them.

Some people find the sap in the plants very irritating to the skin and will need to wear gloves when working with the plants.  The sap make my hands feel a bit itchy but I just need to wash my hands with soap after working with the plants.  Apparently dogs can find this plant extremely irritating to the skin so it is best not to use this plant if you have dogs running around in your yard.