Named for Bartolomeo Maranta, an Italian physician and botanist of the sixteenth century, the Maranta genus includes a few dozen low-growing plants native to Brazil, among them the prayer plant. It gets its common name from the fact that its leaves stay flat during the day and then fold up like praying hands at night.
The prayer plant is one of the most distinguishable tropicals, thanks to its beautiful decorative leaves. The popular tricolor variety has deep green, velvety leaves with yellow splotches down the midrib and arching red veins traveling to the leaf margins. A slow-grower, the prayer plant can eventually reach up to a foot in height indoors. They are fairly common as houseplants and can be planted and cared for indoors during any time of the year, but they're not necessarily easy to keep growing over the long-term.
|Botanical Name||Maranta leuconeura|
|Common Name||Prayer plant|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6–12 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Partial shade, full shade|
|Soil Type||Moist but well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom Time||Spring (rarely flowers indoors)|
|Hardiness Zones||11, 12 (USDA)|
|Native Area||South America|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Prayer Plants
Prayer Plant Care
Prayer plants are low-growing, spreading plants that thrive best when provided with greenhouse-like conditions, including warm, moist, gentle airflow, and plenty of fertilizer. Plants that are kept too cool or too dry are likely to lose their leaves or suffer from fungal infections that can cause the plant to die from root rot or collapse. Likewise, plants that are exposed to too much sun can become washed out and develop brown blotches on their leaves.
You can hang or set your prayer plant near a window where it will receive indirect sunlight. Never set your plant in direct sunlight because the sun will scorch the plant’s leaves or the leaves will develop blotches or patches and fade in color intensity. The plant is generally tolerant of lower light areas. In the winter, when the plants go into dormancy (and sometimes die back completely), provide them with bright light to maintain growth.
Prayer plants can prosper in a variety of soils, so long as they're well-draining. Typically, a traditional potting mix works fine, but you can make your own by combining two parts sphagnum peat moss, one part loamy soil, and one part perlite or coarse sand together. In addition, the soil should be acidic, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.0. To improve drainage, add rocks or gravel to the bottom of your pot and be sure that the pot has a drainage hole.
During their growing season, water your prayer plant frequently (whenever the top layer becomes dry) and never allow the potting soil to dry out completely. These plants are very susceptible to drought and will not survive long if left unwatered. However, to avoid fungal problems, do not let water sit directly on the leaves or let the plant get soggy. Both insufficient water and overwatering can cause the leaves to turn yellow and drop from the plant. When watering your prayer plant, use water that is at least at room temperature, if not slightly warm.
Temperature and Humidity
A prayer plant prefers normal household temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Prolonged lower temperatures can damage the leaves and cause them to drop from the plant. Additionally, prayer plants prefer a very humid environment. To increase the humidity in your home, place a small humidifier or bowl of water near the plant, fill a tray with small stones and add water just to the level of the stones and place the pot on top of the stones, or mist the leaves frequently with room temperature or warm water.
Fertilize your prayer plant every two weeks from early spring through fall (reducing to once a month in winter) with a water-soluble houseplant fertilizer diluted to half-strength. If you use too little fertilizer, your plant will grow slowly or hardly at all. However, too much fertilizer can burn the plant's roots—its leaves will start to brown and the plant can even die.
Propagating Prayer Plants
Propagating prayer plants is surprisingly easy; the most common (and easiest) way to propagate them is to divide the plant while repotting. When repotting your prayer plant, you can divide it into several smaller plants by gently shaking the soil off the roots and working them apart. Each new plant should have a good mass of roots and several stems. Pot these new smaller plants separately in shallow pots. Keep new divisions very warm and moist during the first few weeks until new growth emerges.
Additionally, you can also propagate your prayer plant from cuttings. To do so, make a stem cutting below a leaf node. Dip the cutting in a rooting hormone and place it in a glass of water, making sure to change the water every two days or so. Once roots form, place the cutting directly into potting soil. Keep the soil moist and mist the plant from time to time.
Varieties of Prayer Plants
There are many varieties of prayer plants, but the most popular by far is the tricolor variation available at many garden centers. Prayer plants and calathea plants are so closely associated with one another that it's not uncommon for them to be mislabeled. Within the Maranta genus, a few species are the most common:
- M. leuconeura erythrophylla: This tri-colored prayer plant, also called the herringbone plant, is the most common variety and features bold red veins.
- M. leuconeura kerchoveana: This variety, also known as Rabbit's Tracks, has plain green leaves with two rows of darker splotches.
- M. leuconeura massangeana: This variety has a darker leaf background with silvery blotches along the midrib and white leaf veins.
Common Pests and Diseases
Like many other houseplants, prayer plants can be prone to spider mites and mealybugs. If you notice signs of infestation, such as a white powdery substance on the leaves or browning of the foliage, you can treat your plant with a natural insecticide such as neem oil.