Icon - Arrow LeftAn icon we use to indicate a rightwards action. Icon - Arrow RightAn icon we use to indicate a leftwards action. Icon - External LinkAn icon we use to indicate a button link is external. Icon - MessageThe icon we use to represent an email action. Icon - Down ChevronUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - CloseUsed to indicate a close action. Icon - Dropdown ArrowUsed to indicate a dropdown. Icon - Location PinUsed to showcase a location on a map. Icon - Zoom OutUsed to indicate a zoom out action on a map. Icon - Zoom InUsed to indicate a zoom in action on a map. Icon - SearchUsed to indicate a search action. Icon - EmailUsed to indicate an emai action. Icon - FacebookFacebooks brand mark for use in social sharing icons. flipboard Icon - InstagramInstagrams brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - PinterestPinterests brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - TwitterTwitters brand mark for use in social sharing icons. Icon - Check MarkA check mark for checkbox buttons.
You are reading

Gardening 101: Prayer Plants

Search

Gardening 101: Prayer Plants

February 23, 2018

Prayer Plants: Calathea or Maranta?

The last houseplant I bought for myself (and not for a client) was a prayer plant. What drew me to it? Well, I was intrigued by the striking multicolored striped leaves, its smaller habit, and yes, the common name (because who can’t use a little more prayer in any form?)

But did I buy a Maranta or a Calathea? Before we go any further, let’s clarify terms. The Marantaceae plant family includes both the Maranta and Calathea genera. Closely related and very similar in appearance, plants in both genera are often referred to as prayer plants—and both have many cultivars. What they have in common is ornamental, variegated leaves (often with deep purple or white veining) that are a striking visual component of any collection of houseplants.

Native to warm, tropical climates, prayer plants may be grown as perennials only in USDA growing zones 11 or 12. In colder regions, keep them indoors in pots. Read on to learn how to care for these positively charming plants.

In its houseplants department, Ikea stocks calatheas seasonally. Check your store; currently a trio of Potted Assorted Calathea is €.99 in some European stores (but is not currently listed as available in US stores).
Above: In its houseplants department, Ikea stocks calatheas seasonally. Check your store; currently a trio of Potted Assorted Calathea is €14.99 in some European stores (but is not currently listed as available in US stores).
Native to moist and swampy tropical forests in Central and South America, prayer plants have low-growing, spreading evergreen leaves. The leaves of Maranta leuconeura var. erythrophylla fold together in the evening, like hands in prayer for end-of-day worship. They reopen in the morning.

Although the prayer plant’s evening routine is a charming display, it isn’t the only reason indoor gardeners adore this plant. Wide, oval leaves feature strong variegation, splashed with colors ranging from dark green patches to bright pink veins.

A Maranta Lemon Prayer Plant in a four-inch pot is $30 from Hirt&#8
Above: A Maranta Lemon Prayer Plant in a four-inch pot is $30 from Hirt’s via Amazon.
Despite having a reputation for being a mildly finicky houseplant with specific needs, prayer plants aren’t difficult. You just need to know what those needs are to successfully adopt a prayer plant into your indoor repertoire.

A calathea is a good choice for a spot with low light. See more in Best Houseplants: 9 Indoor Plants for Low Light. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: A calathea is a good choice for a spot with low light. See more in Best Houseplants: 9 Indoor Plants for Low Light. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

Cheat Sheet

  • As with all houseplants, inspect a prayer plant for pests and bugs including aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs. Banish spider mites by rinsing the plant with a strong stream of water. For mealybugs, dab a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and rub away the pests.
  • Grow this nonpoisonous, spreading plant in a hanging container or encourage prayer plant’s horizontal habit to creep over shelves and long tables.
  • Flowers are small spikes and are white to a pale purple, but houseplants rarely bloom. This is the type of plant you grow for the foliage.
A Calathea Medallion in a six-inch plastic nursery pot is $ from The Sill.
Above: A Calathea Medallion in a six-inch plastic nursery pot is $19 from The Sill.

Keep It Alive

  • Although tolerant of low light, it does best with bright, indirect sun. With insufficient light, the leaves do not fully open in the morning. When there is too much light, the leaf colors can fade.
  • Prefers well-draining soil and high humidity. This means it should be kept moist but not soggy.  Also placing the plant among other plants can create a more humid environment. Another idea is to mist daily with warm water.
  • Feed a prayer plant every couple of weeks—spring through fall—with an all-purpose fertilizer. Also use warm or at least room temperature water when giving it a drink. (If you miss a feeding or two, don’t worry. Your prayer plant will survive.)
  • Because of its shallow roots, your prayer plant should be in a container that is more squat than deep.
: The glossy leaves of Calathea orbifolia. See more in Jamie’s Jungle: At Home with Houseplants in London. Photograph by Rachel Warne for Gardenista.
Above:: The glossy leaves of Calathea orbifolia. See more in Jamie’s Jungle: At Home with Houseplants in London. Photograph by Rachel Warne for Gardenista.

See more about calatheas and marantas in Prayer Plants: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design. And see more of our favorite tropical plants in Tropical Plants 101 and more indoor plants with exotic foliage in Houseplants 101. For more inspiration:

Finally, get more ideas on how to successfully plant, grow, and care for prayer plant with our Prayer Plant: A Field Guide.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various houseplants with our Houseplants: A Field Guide.

Interested in other tropical plants for your garden or indoor space? Get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various tropical plants with our Tropical Plants: A Field Guide.

Product summary  

Have a Question or Comment About This Post?

Join the conversation

v5.0