by Matt Gibson
A popular houseplant also commonly referred to as rabbit tracks, the prayer plant got its name because of its habit of folding up its leaves at night similarly to how someone folds up their hands to pray. Read on to learn all about the prayer plant, including its history, the different varieties available to gardeners, and how to provide the best growing environment and care for the prayer plant to ensure its success.
About Prayer Plant
A native of the Brazilian jungle, the prayer plant is only hardy to USDA growing zones 11 and 12, and does not typically do well outdoors, unless it is provided with a very shady location in a subtropical environment with the right neighbors. Because it has such a tiny climate zone where it is happy, it is typically grown indoors as a houseplant, where it is provided with specifically warm and damp conditions, similar to the tropical environment where it is from, in the jungles of Brazil.
Not growing the prayer plant outdoors, however, means missing out on its tiny white flowers, which is actually not a big loss, as they are insignificant and barely noticeable when in full bloom. Instead of being grown for its tiny white flowers, prayer plant is actually coveted for its lovely odd and one-of-a-kind foliage.
The six inch long leaves show off a different array of colors depending on variety. The topside of the leaves are usually some shade of green with spots. The spots vary in color from light green to brown and gray, while the undersides of the leaves are dark red or bright green. The most popular, and most gloriously-hued variety of prayer plant boasts tricolor leaves of green which are bedazzled with yellow spots and bright red veins.
Varieties of Prayer Plant
Named after a 16th century Italian botanist and physician Bartolomeo Maranta, the Maranta leuconeura is just one of the low growing plants in the Maranta genus, and the eye-catching tricolor foliage of one of its cultivars, M. tricolor, also known as the herringbone plant, helped it to become a very popular houseplant.
Aside from the tricolor, there are a few other interesting varieties that make excellent houseplants. The M. leuconeura kerchoveana has cream colored leaves with dark-green splotches and light green veins. M. leuconeura massangeana has white leaf veins, a darker background green and silvery blotches on the middle of the topside of the leaf.
Maranta leuconeura ‘Erythroneura’ is known as the red prayer plant. It has dark green leaves with hints of red on the topside and deep red notes on the underside of the leaves. There is a burgundy tint to the veins of the red prayer plant as well.
Growing Conditions for Prayer Plant
Prayer plants need bright filtered indoor light. Too much direct sunlight will result in faded colors, brown blotches on the leaves, and leaf scorch. Prayer plants like their soil to be just right. They do not like it to be too moist, nor too dry. They prefer an acidic soil with a pH balance of 5.5 to 6. A great soil mixture for prayer plants is two parts sphagnum peat moss, one part loamy soil, and one part perlite or coarse sand. You can also use pre-packaged potting soil, but make sure it has good drainage before settling. To improve the drainage, add in perlite or coarse sand and line the bottom of your pot or container with rocks or gravel (and be sure to use a pot with a drainage hole).
They enjoy a humid environment so an occasional misting will keep them extra happy. Your prayer plant will thrive in temperature between 85 and 65 degrees F during the day and above 55 degrees F at night. Keep it in a location that is free of drafts, especially in the cold weather months.
As marantas are generally low-growing plants that like to spread out but never reaching heights above eight inches tall, they are perfect candidates for low-lying windowsill displays. They will perform best in near greenhouse-like conditions. Give them a warm, moist, gentle environment with plenty of air flow and fertilizer. If prayer plants are kept in an environment that is too cool or too dry, they will begin losing leaves and may develop fungal infections, eventually dying from collapse or from root rot.
Care of Prayer Plant
When watering your prayer plant, which you will want to do regularly in the spring and summer and less actively in the fall and winter, use a luke-warm temperature water and be sure to water the soil, not the leaves. Prayer plant leaves should be kept dry at all times (other than a few light mistings per week) to avoid fungal issues. During the spring and summer, soil should be kept moist at all times, but be careful not to let the plant get soggy. The best way to do this is to improve drainage when necessary. Not enough water and too much water could both be the cause if you notice your prayer plant’s leaves are turning yellow or falling off.
Fertilize your prayer plants every two weeks from early spring through the fall by diluting a well-balanced (10-10-10), water-soluble, houseplant fertilizer to half-strength. Again with fertilizer, just the right amount of food is key to the prayer plant’s survival, and any imbalance will have negative results. Too much fertilizer will burn the roots, turn the leaves brown, and even kill the plant. Too little fertilizer will cause the plants to grow slowly or not at all. Feed regularly every two weeks during the spring, summer, and fall, and cut back feedings to once per month in the winter.
You should not need to replant or repot your prayer plant too often, but once it becomes root bound or pot-bound, its growth will slow greatly, so rehome it when you see this occurring, once every three to four years. When repotting prayer plant, choose a new container that is only about one or two inches wider than the previous pot. In the early springtime, before the new growing season begins, gently remove the plant from its old container and lightly shake and brush the roots clean with your fingers. Then place into the new container with fresh potting soil and water well immediately after repotting.
How to Propagate Prayer Plant
Propagation of prayer plants is quite easy and can be done by rhizome division or by stem cuttings, but the most popular, and easiest method of propagation is by division when repotting.
Divide your plant into several smaller plants by carefully shaking the soil and separating the plants by the roots, gently working them apart. Each new plant should have multiple stems and a good mass of roots. Pot the new, smaller prayer plants in their own shallow pots, keeping the soil moist and warm until new growth begins to emerge.
If propagating by stem cutting, make your cut just below a leaf node, dip in rooting hormone, and place into a glass of water. Once roots begin to develop, place the cutting directly into potting soil, keeping the soil moist and misting from time to time. New growth should begin as roots begin to establish themselves.
Pruning Prayer Plant
You can prune your prayer plant to encourage bushier and fuller growth. Using a sterilized pair of pruning shears or sharp scissors, clip the stems just above a leaf node. From that clipping, new shoots will sprout up from the cut area, making the plant appear fuller, and more bushy.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Prayer Plant
Fungal issues are the most common disease to plague the prayer plant and usually arise from under or over watering issues, or inadequate drainage. Inspect new plants thoroughly before bringing them indoors, as prayer plants are susceptible to aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs. Check established houseplants for pests and diseases at regular intervals such as when watering or feeding to make sure that no problems have arised.
Common Questions and Answers About Prayer Plant
Are prayer plants Calatheas?
The name “prayer plant” is sometimes used to refer both to Calathea and Maranta varieties, both of which are part of the Marantaceae family. However, only the Maranta variety closes its leaves at night, the action from which the prayer plant got its name. Maranta also grows in a clumping formation low to the ground. Calathea does not fold its leaves up at night, but it is a popular houseplant with pleated oval or lance-shaped leaves.
Are prayer plants easy to grow?
Prayer plants are easy to care for but require care that’s specific to their preferences. Prayer plants like to be kept moist but not waterlogged. They should not be permitted to dry out between waterings; instead, they should be watered when the surface of the soil is just beginning to get dry. They also like high humidity, which can be achieved by placing a humidifier near them or by misting them daily. Finally, the prayer plant needs five to six hours of bright, indirect light each day. It can only be grown outside in zones 10B-12, and in these zones, the light can be filtered through the tree canopy. When prayer plant is grown inside, it can get light from an eastern-facing window or from the inside of a room that has a window that gets bright light.
Are prayer plants safe for dogs?
The ASPCA has listed prayer plants as safe for dogs and cats.
Can a prayer plant live outside?
Prayer plants can be grown outside by gardeners in zones 10B-12. They prefer temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and high humidity.
Can I cut back my prayer plant?
You can encourage your prayer plant to put out new growth by pruning it occasionally. Use clean, sterilized shears and make cuts right above a leaf node. New shoots will emerge just below where you’ve cut, making the plant fuller and bushier.
Can you propagate prayer plant?
It’s easy to propagate prayer plants either by taking a cutting or via rhizome division. Make cuttings below leaf nodes, using clean shears. Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone, then place the cutting in a glass of water. Be sure to freshen the water every couple of days. When roots appear, transplant the cutting into potting soil. Water the plant frequently enough to keep soil moist, and mist the plant occasionally as well.
You can propagate via rhizome division when you’re repotting your prayer plant. Gently clean the roots to remove excess soil, dividing them into a few portions. Each new portion should include several stems and a generous clump of roots. Divide the plants into their own smaller pots, keeping them very moist and warm until new growth sprouts.
Do prayer plants go dormant?
It is normal for prayer plants to sometimes go dormant during the winter. This means they’ll have a period of little growth when they need less water. Allow the soil to dry out more between waterings if your prayer plant is dormant. You can read more about dormancy in our article that covers the topic.
Do prayer plants like coffee grounds?
Coffee grounds are commonly used to boost the nitrogen content of potting soil and to add a mulch-like texture. However, adding too much coffee on top of the soil your plants are in can trap moisture inside and invite fungal disease. Use no more than half an inch of coffee grounds on the top of soil, and cover this layer with four inches of mulch. Alternatively, use coffee grounds as part of compost that’s incorporated into potting soil to get the same nutrients without the concern about fungus.
Do prayer plants like to be root bound?
Prayer plants will not thrive if they are root bound—they should be repotted about once a year. If your plant displays symptoms of being root bound, such as wilted foliage, stunted growth, or needing more water than usual, check the root ball to see if the roots are winding around the inside of the container. You can learn how to prevent, recognize, and troubleshoot bound plants in our article on the topic.
Does a prayer plant bloom?
The prayer plant produces white flowers a few times a year, especially when it’s grown outdoors within its USDA hardiness zones (10B-12) and cared for well. Flowers can be hard to notice and are produced one at a time at the end of a long stem.
Does a prayer plant move?
The leaves of the prayer plant fold up when it’s been in the dark for 15 minutes. This motion is a process of nyctinastic movement, also called sleeping movement, which are the motions plants make in the dark. The closing and opening of the plant’s leaves is a result of cells at the base of the leaves swelling and shrinking.
How big can prayer plants get?
Prayer plants can get up to three feet tall, but on average reach a height of one foot, with leaves that are six inches long.
How did prayer plant get its name?
The prayer plant got its name because its leaves fold up at night, which reminded people of hands praying for vespers.
How often should you water prayer plant?
Keep the soil moist (but not waterlogged) by watering regularly during the active growth period in spring and summer, then water less often in fall and winter. Do not allow the prayer plant’s soil to dry out; provide water when the surface of the soil is just beginning to get dry. Give prayer plants lukewarm water, and water the base of the plant to avoid getting the stems and leaves wet, which can lead to problems with leaf spot bacteria.
Is the prayer plant poisonous?
Prayer plant is nontoxic to humans, cats, dogs, and birds, and it can even be used in terrariums with invertebrates.
Is prayer plant toxic to cats?
According to the ASPCA, prayer plant is safe for dogs and cats.
Should I mist my prayer plant?
Mist your prayer plant daily with warm water during its winter dormancy period to give it the added humidity it craves.
What is a prayer plant called?
Prayer plant is sometimes called “praying hands,” and its botanical name is Maranta leuconeura. The name “prayer plant” is sometimes also used to refer to Calathea plants, but the Calathea does not close its leaves in evening like the Maranta prayer plant does.
What kind of soil does a prayer plant need?
You can use a standard potting soil for houseplants as long as it works well for you. If more drainage is needed, mix in sand or perlite. Alternatively, you can mix your own soil blend by combining: 1 part garden soil, 1 part peat or humus, 1 part perlite or sand, and 1 pinch of lime dust.
What type of plant is a prayer plant?
The prayer plant is a flowering tropical plant that comes from the New World tropics. It is a member of the family Marantaceae, and its botanical name is Maranta leuconeura. The name “prayer plant” is also used to refer to the Calathea variety of the same family, but the Calathea plant does not close its leaves at night, the action for which the prayer plant was named.
When should you repot a prayer plant?
Prayer plants do not need repotting often, but if a plant is in danger of becoming rootbound, move it to a new container one or two inches wider than the current pot. (You can learn to identify, prevent, and troubleshoot rootbound plants in our article on the topic.) If repotting is needed, it’s best done in spring before the growing season begins.
Where should I put my prayer plant?
Prayer plants need five to six hours a day of bright, indirect sunlight, and they can only be grown outside in USDA hardiness zones 10B-12. In those zones, it can get bright, indirect sunlight that is filtered through the tree canopy. In other zones, it can be grown as a houseplant, and its container should be placed in an eastern-facing windowsill or in the interior of a room with a window that gets bright sunlight. Prayer plants should be cultivated in spots where the temperature stays between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Why are my prayer plant’s leaves curling?
The leaves of the prayer plant naturally close together after about 15 minutes of darkness each night. This is a feature of the plant and should not cause alarm. If the curling is a result of wilting, there are a variety of reasons a prayer plant’s leaves might be curling. Not getting enough water can cause leaves to wilt and dry out, while too much water can cause root rot, which results in leaves wilting and falling from the plant.
Wilting can also indicate that a prayer plant needs more humidity, which can be remedied by adding a humidifier near the plant, misting the prayer plant daily, and making sure the plant is not near cold drafts or heating sources. Too much sunlight can also result in leaves that wilt, dry up, and eventually are scorched brown. Optimally, prayer plants need five to six hours of indirect bright sunlight and temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Infestations of mealybugs, spider mites, or aphids can also cause plants to curl up, wilt, or drop from the plant. Treat affected plants with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol or a spray made of a teaspoon of neem oil, one liter of warm water, and four or five drops of dish soap.
Why are my prayer plant’s leaves turning yellow?
There are a multitude of reasons a prayer plant’s leaves might turn yellow, from environmental stress to diseases or insects. If you’re seeing a strip of yellow between the healthy and unhealthy parts of the leaf, your prayer plant is responding to either too-bright lighting or too much phosphate or fluoride. An excess of phosphate or fluoride can be remedied by switching to watering with purified water. Prayer plants need five to six hours of bright, indirect sunlight per day, which may be filtered through the tree canopy, come from an eastern-facing window, or from the interior of a room with a window that gets bright light.
Yellowing of younger leaves can indicate chlorosis, which can be resolved by treating with liquid iron fertilizer as long as the soil pH is around 6.0. If you aren’t sure, this Gardening Channel article will explain how to test your soil’s pH level.
Small waterlogged spots that turn yellow and spread, turning tan with a yellow outline, are a symptom of Helminthosporium leaf spot, a fungal disease. Treat with a liter of warm water mixed with a teaspoon of neem oil and four or five drops of dish soap. This disease is caused by overwatering, so resolve the excess moisture to prevent future outbreaks.
If yellow areas alternate with healthy green foliage, this is a sign of cucumber mosaic virus. You may see young leaves that are distorted or stunted or older leaves with yellow designs on the surface. If your prayer plant has cucumber mosaic virus, it’s necessary to destroy it and discard the debris to prevent the disease spreading to other plants in your garden.
Why do prayer plant leaves fold up at night?
The leaves of the prayer plant fold up after about 15 minutes of darkness each night. This is an example of nyctinastic movement, also called sleeping movements, which are movements plants make in the dark. Scientists aren’t sure why the prayer plant does this, but they theorize it could be to protect the plant. The movement is a result of cells at the base of the leaves swelling and shrinking.
Why do the leaves on my prayer plant curl up?
The prayer plant’s leaves fold up each night after about 15 minutes of darkness. This nyctinastic movement, or sleeping movement, is the action for which the prayer plant is named, since the folded leaves resemble praying hands. Curling as a result of wilting can indicate a variety of problems for the prayer plant.
Leaves can wilt, curl, and dry out if the prayer plant isn’t getting enough water. On the other hand, too much water can cause leaves to curl, wilt, and drop off as a result of root rot.
Wilting leaves can also point to a need for more humidity. You can remedy this issue by adding a humidifier near your prayer plant or by misting the plant each day. Make sure the prayer plant isn’t positioned too close to heat sources or cold drafts.
Leaves can sometimes wilt, dry up, and eventually be scorched brown as a result of sunscald when they’ve gotten too much light. The prayer plant needs five or six hours a day of bright, indirect light. Outdoors, the light should be filtered through the three canopy. Indoors, it should come from an eastern-facing window or the inside of a room with a window that gets bright light.
Leaves can also curl or appear distorted in response to an outbreak of mealybugs, spider mites, or aphids. You can treat plants against these infestations with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol or by applying a spray of one liter warm water, one teaspoon neem oil, and four or five drops of dish soap.
Why does the prayer plant move?
The prayer plant’s leaves fold up each night once it’s been in the dark for 15 minutes, resembling hands folded for prayer—the prayer plant was named after this motion. Experts aren’t sure exactly why the prayer plant moves, but they theorize it may be to protect the plant. The movement happens because of the swelling and shrinking of cells at the base of the leaves. It is an example of nyctinastic movement, or sleeping movement, which are motions plants make in the dark.
Why is my prayer plant dying?
There are many reasons a prayer plant might be dying. The prayer plant requires soil that is moist but not waterlogged. It not be permitted to dry out between waterings and should instead be watered whenever the soil’s surface begins to feel dry. The soil must provide sufficient drainage to prevent fungal disease. If drainage is an issue, consider mixing perlite or sand into your potting soil to increase its drainage capability. Soil pH should be around 6.0. If you aren’t sure of your soil’s pH level, this Gardening Channel article explains how to test soil.
Prayer plants also need five to six hours a day of bright, indirect sunlight. When prayer plants are grown outside (only possible in USDA hardiness zones 10B-12), this light can be filtered through the tree canopy. When it’s grown as a houseplant, the light may come from an eastern-facing window or the inside of a room with a window that gets bright light.
If a prayer plant’s leaves are discolored, distorted, or falling off the plant, this might indicate trouble with disease or infestation. Prayer plants are susceptible to outbreaks of mealybugs, spider mites, or aphids. You can treat against these pests with a cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol or with a spray made of one liter warm water, one teaspoon neem oil, and four or five drops of dish soap. The same neem oil treatment can be used to remedy fungal diseases, but overwatering must be addressed to prevent them coming back in the future.
Why is my prayer plant not closing?
The leaves of the prayer plant close as a response to darkness; the plant needs about 15 minutes of darkness for the motion to begin. If your prayer plant’s leaves are not closing, it’s possible that it doesn’t get dark enough where the plant is growing to trigger the movement.
Want to learn more about growing prayer plants?
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