Moses in the Rushes – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Moses in the Rushes

Moses in the Rushes

Moses in the Rushes (Tradescantia spathacea or Rhoeo spathacea) is on five continents as an ornamental or medicinal plant. In has been used in it’s native Mexico as anti-fungal and anti Cancer drugs and is still used in modern medicine as part of a treatment for cancer in that country. Naturally, it’s use was documented in the Mayan pharmacopoeia which people in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are working to reconstruct.

Throughout the rest of the world, it is sold as a potted ornamental and for a ground cover although some people in Asia use it for medicinal purposes. If the tiny three pedal flower looks familiar along with the purple underside of the leaf, it’s because the plant is a close relative to the “Wandering Jew” (Tradescantia pallida ). Despite being sold as a ground cover it is actually rather poor for that use, at least in the tropics. As a ground cover it does not grow fast enough or dense enough to completely stop airborne seeds from growing. Where there are large areas growing, there are also vines, shrubs and trees that need to be weeded.

Now if that is not bad enough, the really ugly part is it is poisonous if eaten in large amounts and Moses-in-the-cradle causes rashes and other reactions if it contacts your skin. Unlike poison ivy, this plant does not attack everybody.

Skin Rash from Plants

Skin Rash from Plants

Still, my rash was treatable with antihistamines and steroids and if this would cure cancer, it might be a good enough reason to try. So there it is in a nutshell:

Good – Anti-cancer
Bad – Makes a poor ground cover
Ugly – The rash it gave me when I harvested a bushel for a friend who wanted to use it as ground-cover.

Neither she nor her husband got a rash when they planted them!  

Still, when on Vacation, be careful of the flowers you pick. The last thing you need is a trip to the Emergency Room after all the pharmacies are closed.

About John Boyd

I have been hiking the hills and beaches of St. Croix Virgin Islands for over 30 years and in retirement have decided to become a Heritage Hiking Guide specializing in the local history, geology, settlers, plant life and environmental changes by all settlers of the last 2000 years but just along the trails I hike.
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