Maranta leuconeura, or prayer plant, indigenous to the Amazon jungles of Brazil, was named after Bartolomeo Maranta, a Renaissance-era critic of literature, physician, and botanist, while leuconeura means “white-veined” leaves.
It gets its common name from the nature of the leaves tending to lie flat in the day and folding to an erect position at night as if it is saying evening prayers.
It is a variegated flowering plant, bearing small flowers in the wild, although this rarely occurs in plants grown indoors. The two-color leaves are broad, oval, greenish, and gleaming and the bottom of the leaves are varying ranges of green that change color as the leaves mature and depending on the type.
They have a variety of spots on either side of the leaves, which can be either light green, green, brown, or gray. The roots are rhizomes and shallow.
It is a lovely, hardy indoor houseplant that’s grown mainly for its attractive leaves. It doesn’t grow very tall, maybe a foot high at the most. It’s very easy to grow in hanging pots and allows the leaves to the trail, but can spread horizontally along a shelf or table. Since it grows rather slowly, you don’t have to be concerned about it spreading too fast.
Prayer plants thrive in low, medium, or bright lighting conditions. The leaves should be protected from direct sun as they can suffer from leaf burn. It can also handle low lighting conditions, although the variegation this plant is known for will be affected.
Water weekly as prayer plants prefer the soil to be damp, but not water-logged and doesn’t like dry soil. The leaves start turning brown if the soil becomes totally dry or if it is under-watered, so soil moisture should be monitored.
It is a tropical plant and grows best in high levels of humidity between 40-60%. Grouping houseplants together will help increase humidity levels as well as placing a water-filled bowl close by the plant and regular misting. However, if this still doesn’t solve the problem, then it would be wise to get a humidifier.
Prayer plants prefer a temperature between 65-80°F. Avoid temperatures below 55°F as the plant will suffer damage.
It doesn’t require much feeding. Feed it a couple of times during spring or summer to keep it growing happily. You can feed it once a month if you want to with a half-strength all-purpose liquid fertilizer mixed with a gallon of water.
Alternatively, worm compost tea, made from the casting of earthworms, is a good organic replacement for fertilizer and can be applied twice a month.
Prayer plants require a soil mixture that drains well along with coconut coir in a pot with large draining holes. It prefers the soil to be damp but not so much that it drowns the plant.
Repotting ideally must be in spring although it can be done any time (except in winter). However, it should be repotted when it becomes root-bound. It is easy to tell when the plant happens as roots will start appearing underneath the pot and the plant will stop developing new growth.
By the way, this is a good time to divide the plant if you want to propagate it (see below).
Select and prepare a pot that is a size larger and fill about a third of the pot with soil. Extract the plant from the pot, shake/wash off old soil and examine it. Carefully remove dead roots, if any, and plant them into the prepared pot, filling the space around with soil.
Cut off any leaves with brown tips or leaf edges, as well as dead leaves. If the leaf is affected by any disease or severe pest infestation, remove the entire leaf by cutting it off near the stem. If just the tip a leaf has is brown, simply trim off the brown area rather than the whole leaf. Pruning leaves can boost the growth of new rhizomes.
If the entire plant’s foliage gets affected, almost all the foliage can be trimmed off until the soil. Try and save a few healthy leaves if possible. Before you do such a drastic step though, try and identify what has caused it and fix it.
There are two ways (three actually your plant produces seeds) – by cutting and by root division. Seeds are rarely produced by prayer-plants growing indoors, so that basically rules that out.
Cut off the stem just close to the bottom of the stem. Plant the cutting straight into the soil or in water. Swap the water with fresh water every two days. Plant it in soil when the roots have become at least one inch long.
This is ideally done when you’re repotting the plant. Create several new plants by gently removing them from the root mass. Each new plant has to have a nice root mass along with a rhizome and several stems. Plant these into shallow pots and water well.
Rotating the plant at least once a month will help it grow evenly. Wipe the leaves occasionally and check for damage from pests, etc. Trim of dry parts of leaves and remove dead leaves. Give the soil a good rinse every three months to remove salts from fertilizer building up.
Water until the water is flowing freely from the bottom – do this approximately 3 times then resume your regular watering schedule.
Low humidity can cause the leaf tips to become brown as well as cause leaf curl. Make sure you maintain proper levels as this is a tropical plant that thrives in high humidity.
Direct sunlight will make the color of the leaves looked faded and they might also develop brown blotches. Place the plant in a more suitably lit location.
Over-watering can make the leaves turn yellow and the stems rot. Make sure the pot drains effectively, the potting mix isn’t waterlogged, and you’re watering the plant as per your schedule.
Prayer plants can sometimes be attacked by insects like mealybugs, aphids, and spider mites. Neem oil can be used to control any pest infestation.