The maranta leuconeura is also known as the prayer plant. Once evening descends, this low-growing Brazilian native has a habit of raising its leaves to an upright position and folding them as if in prayer. It can thrive outdoors only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 11 and 12, so it’s typically cultivated indoors.
Prayer plant care isn’t difficult as long as you address its specific needs. As a tropical plant, it has distinct requirements for humidity, temperature and water.
Gardeners prize the strikingly beautiful leaves of the maranta plant. It has wide oval leaves with a range of variegation, depending on the variety. In the rainforests where it originates, the maranta plant blooms in the spring with small, white flowers. While this rarely occurs indoors, the plant’s stunning leaves more than make up for the lack of flowers. When they receive the right care, the maranta plant is one of the prettiest indoor plants you can grow.
Prayer Plant Overview
The prayer plant is named for Bartolomeo Maranta, an Italian physician and botanist of the sixteenth century. The striking beauty of the maranta leuconeura species makes it a well-loved and common houseplant. It is an evergreen perennial that is often grown in hanging baskets. As a slow grower, you don’t have to worry about it getting out of hand.
A well-grown prayer plant should have full, six-inch long leaves rising from a short center stem and draping down. It also grows horizontally over flat surfaces, so it can be used as ground cover if you live in a suitably warm and humid climate.
It is not demanding but does require special care to thrive. While it may not be best for those who prefer low maintenance plants, the prayer plant is a statement piece that rewards your care with bold and beautiful colors.
4 Types of Prayer Plant
Sometimes the term “prayer plant” is used interchangeably for both the maranta and calathea plants. The marantaceae family includes the calathea genus, so they are very closely related. Maranta and calathea care are similar enough that if you learn how to grow a maranta or prayer plant, you will know how to care for a calathea too.
Approximately 40 to 50 species of prayer plant are recognized, but the maranta leuconeura is the most common one. Here are a few varieties of maranta leuconeura:
Maranta leuconeura ‘Erythroneura’ (Red Prayer Plant)
The red prayer plant (or herringbone plant) has dark green leaves with white or light green running down the spine. The arching veins come in several shades of red. The tiny flowers are light lavender and it grows six to eight inches tall.
Maranta leuconeura var. ‘Massangeana’ (Black Prayer Plant)
The black prayer plant belongs to the subspecies “massangeana.” It is distinctive for its silvery-blue leaves with dark olive green edges and purple spots. It has small white flowers and grows up to eleven inches tall.
Maranta leuconeura ‘Kerchoveana’ (Green Prayer Plant)
This classic variety is most commonly found as a houseplant. The leaves are green and have purple markings between the veins. The veins are less prominent in this variety and it is noted for its large green spots which resemble animal tracks (hence the common name of “rabbit track plant”).
Calathea Ornata (Pinstripe Calathea)
This prayer plant variety is native to South America’s countries of Colombia and Venezuela. The dark green leaves have stripes of a very light green, creating a beautiful contrast and unique style of the plant. Usually the pinstripe calathea is an indoor plant, rather than outdoors.
Prayer Plant Care Tips
All species of maranta leuconeura require the same care. They thrive best when provided with conditions similar to a greenhouse (or their native rainforests). The care guidelines below will help you keep your plant healthy, but this free houseplant printable is a useful tool that outlines the prayer plant’s basic needs.
Sunlight: This plant is generally tolerant of lower light areas. However, the leaves won’t fully open during the day if there isn’t enough light. Direct sunlight can scorch the leaves of the prayer plant or cause the color to fade. It prefers bright but indirect sunlight. In winter, the light should be a bit brighter but still indirect or dampened.
Water: Prayer plants should be watered generously. Keep the soil moist at all times, but never let it get soggy. When watering, use water that is warm or at least at room temperature. In the winter months, reduce watering but never let the soil dry out completely.
Keep the plant in a wide, shallow container that has drainage holes in its bottom. Its fine, shallow roots are susceptible to root rot. Both the planting medium and container need to drain well. A planting medium composed of two parts peat moss, one part loam and one part sand will ensure good drainage.
Keep in mind, these plants thrive in tropical conditions. A daily misting can help provide the plant with the humidity it needs that may not be present in your home. You can also place a container of water near the plant, as the evaporating water will increase humidity.
Prayer plants are sensitive to fluoride, so don’t use hard water.
Temperature: These tropical plants grow best in warm temperatures, between 65 and 70 °F. They cannot handle extreme temperatures. If it is too hot, the leaves will turn dark as a result of burning. Temperatures below 55 °F could damage the leaves, which will shrink and turn brown.
Toxicity: The plant is not poisonous to humans. It is also non-toxic for dogs and cats, so decorate your home with them worry-free!
Pests: Clean the leaves occasionally with a dry cloth to keep them free of dust. Spider mites are the most common pest culprit. You’ll know your prayer plant might be taken over by spider mites if you notice tiny black dots. Leaves infested with spider mites may also be covered with white webbing and have yellow or brown dry spots. The good news is that spider mites dislike the high humidity needed to keep a prayer plant happy, so you should avoid them if you take care of your plant.
Problems: If you notice small, water-soaked spots on your leaves, the likely cause is a fungal disease called helminthosporium leaf spot. An application of neem oil will kill any active disease, but you’ll need to stop over-watering the plant and avoid getting the leaves too wet.
Repotting: You shouldn’t need to re-pot your prayer plant often. However, prayer plants are already slow growers and growing may come to a halt if it becomes root-bound in its pot. Choose a pot that is one or two inches wider than the existing pot. Simply remove it from the current pot and put it in the new pot with a bit of extra soil mix.
Propagation: Propagating prayer plants is surprisingly easy. All you need to do is make a stem cutting below a leaf node. Dip the cutting in a rooting hormone and place in a glass of distilled water, making sure to change it every day. Wait until the roots are about an inch long before taking it out to place in soil.
You can also insert the cutting directly into potting soil. Keep the soil moist and mist the plant occasionally.
Common Prayer Plant Questions and Concerns
Environmental problems could cause your prayer plant to become unhappy, but a few diseases and pests could also be responsible. Read on to see the answers to frequently asked questions about prayer plants.
Why is my prayer plant not closing?
If it sits near a lamp or other light source at night, it may not be getting dark enough for the leaves to fold up. Try moving it to a new location away from the light to see if it adjusts to light and dark conditions.
Why are the leaves on my prayer plant turning yellow?
Yellow-pigmented, spotted and curled leaves usually indicate that the plant is not getting enough water. Yellow leaves could also be a sign of chlorosis, especially on younger leaves. A switch to filtered water should alleviate the problem, or you can correct it with a dose of liquid iron fertilizer.
Why are the leaves on my prayer plant turning brown?
If the tips of the leaves are turning brown or curling up, the plant is getting too much light. The chlorine found in tap water could also be the cause for brown leaves. Use filtered water or let water sit for 24 hours before watering the plant.
Why are the leaves on my prayer plant curling?
Curled leaves could indicate that the plant is under-watered or getting too much light. Try increasing humidity and decreasing the amount of light. You may also need to repot it in a smaller pot.
While more complicated than houseplants such as pothos or dracaena, once you set up the right conditions, you should have no problem giving your prayer plant what it needs to thrive. Now that you know how to care for a prayer plant, you may be eager to add one of these gorgeous and unique showy plants to your collection.