INDOOR PRAYER PLANTS:

Marantas and Calatheas

by Joelle Steele

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For centuries, botanists and plant enthusiasts alike have been fascinated by plants whose movements emulate those of humans. Nowhere is this more evident than in the beautiful prayer plants — Maranta and Calathea species. Each night, these members of the Marantaceae family fold their dramatically colored and patterned leaves together and upwards, mimicking human hands in prayer.

Marantas and calatheas originate in Brazil, South and Central America, and Mexico. In their native habitats they flourish outdoors as bedding plants. In cooler locations, we maintain these colorful plants indoors where the marantas are low-growing vines and the calatheas are upright plants reaching about 20" or more in height.

COMMON VARIETIES

Popular varieties of marantas include M. leuconeura kerchoveana ("prayer plant"), M. leuconeura massangeana ("rabbit's foot"), and M. leuconeura erythroneura ("red-veined prayer plant"). Among the calatheas most commonly available for indoor gardens are C. insignis ("rattlesnake plant"), C. makoyana ("peacock plant"), and C. zebrina ("zebra plant").

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PESTS AND DISEASES

As with most houseplants, these plants are susceptible to insects and diseases when they are subject to the stresses of improper or inadequate care. If they get insects, marantas are likely to suffer from mealy bug, and calatheas from mites and scale. When using insecticides, be sure to direct the spray to the stems, to the tops and undersides of the leaves, and to the soil surface for full coverage.

TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY

They can tolerate a wide temperature range and do well indoors as long as their requirement for a high degree of humidity is met. If the air is too dry, they exhibit brown edges on their leaves. Humidifiers or pebble trays provide solutions to this unattractive problem.

WATERING

As for watering, marantas and calatheas should not be allowed to dry out completely but should also not be watered so heavily that their saucers sit full of water for any length of time. They thrive in controlled watering containers.

FERTILIZATION

Prayer plants should be fertilized only about once every four years or so as too much of any chemical in the soil can destroy their lovely foliage.

This article last updated: 01/15/2000.