When I was in college in Iowa, many years ago, I met an inspirational woman. The purpose of our introduction is unimportant here, but over the course of several months I visited her a few times. She was in her late 80s or early 90s, living alone, still gardening, cooking, and caring for her home and herself.
The first time I visited this independent senior--let's call her Mrs. C--I noticed this unique green and purple houseplant, with little bracts loaded with white blooms. I asked her what it was called, and she said "Moses-in-the-Bulrushes." On subsequent visits during mild weather, her window boxes on the front of her house were stuffed full of the Moses plant. Because of my interest, she gave me a cutting of the plant in a pot.
Though I was a college student (and terrible at keeping houseplants alive), the Moses plant managed to survive. In fact, it was quite healthy and I gave cuttings to friends and family members, including my mom.
At this point, all of the credit goes to her, because my Moses plant died or was discarded somewhere along the way. Over the years, my mother--who has a green thumb with indoor and outdoor plants--always had a pot full of the Moses plant.
Fast-forward to March 2013.
While visiting Mom in Florida last month, I noticed she had a Moses plant near a small fence in her front yard. Of course, this brought back memories of both Mom's house over the years, and Mrs. C.
After noticing the plant at Mom's place (and at Florida botanical gardens, where some of these photos were captured), I did a little research.
The plant's Latin name is Tradescantia spathacea (synonym Rhoeo spathacea), according to the USDA plants database. Common names, in addition to Moses-in-the-Bulrushes, include Boatlily, Oysterplant, Men-in-a-Boat, and numerous variations of "Moses-in... ."
Here's where things get a little tricky. The Moses plant--native to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden--is considered slightly invasive in parts of Florida and Louisiana. But it's a tropical plant and very sensitive to frost, so it doesn't survive as a perennial beyond zone 9.
For those who do plant it outside--during the summer or as a year-round perennial--it grows well in full sun or part shade. It's low-maintenance, evergreen, and spreads one to two feet wide and about one foot in height.
One warning: Dogs, in particular, seem sensitive to the Moses plant, according to several sources. Plant owners report that their dogs developed skin irritations after rolling in it.
If you keep it away from your dog (maybe on a shelf or in a window box outside), it's an excellent decorative plant, based on the experiences of Mrs. C and Mom.
What happened to Mrs. C? Unfortunately, I lost touch with her after I graduated all those years ago, and she has since passed on. But the Moses plant, which my mother has nurtured all these years, will always remind me of these two special women.