Brighten up the dark days of winter with a plant that can add colour and interest to the indoor landscape. Because of the low light levels at this time of year, it is difficult to get flowering houseplants to put forth bloom so we have to rely on foliage plants to provide that colour and interest. No other houseplant provides that than the prayer plant (Marantas). Not only does the prayer plant have distinctive colouration on its leaves, but it also has the unique characteristic of folding upwards in the evening as day comes to a close. The striped leaves do in fact resemble hands that appear to clasp together and reach toward the heavens. This characteristic has given rise to the common name of the plant.
The leaves are green, usually with a central spine of lighter green or pale yellow. Overlaid on top of the leaves is often a network of bright-red ribs as well as squarish brown blotches. Hybridizers have developed many new cultivars; one called “Herringbone” has very distinctive red ribs while another called “Rabbit’s Track” has the dark-brown blotches that do indeed resemble the footprints of rabbits.
Originating from the dense forests of Central and South America, the prayer plant does not require high light levels, in fact if exposed to too much light the foliage will fade and the edges of the leaves will brown. The prayer plant likes high humidity and the edges of the leaves may also turn brown if the humidity is too low. Prayer plants are therefore often used in terrariums where the humidity is always high. They also are ideal for this purpose because they are relatively small plants that are not fast growing and they are quite shallow rooted.
Increasing the humidity is also possible by placing a shallow bowl of water near the plant or placing the pot on a pebble tray. Misting will also help but few of us want to undertake this tedious task several times a day. For the same reason, prayer plants are often included in dish gardens because the humidity is usually higher when several plants are grown in close proximity. If a terrarium or dish garden is not in the cards, a prayer plant can be included in a grouping of plants, perhaps on a tray, used to create an interesting display. When the edges of the leaves brown even after all precautions, the brown edges can be carefully snipped off with a pair of sharp scissors to ensure that the original shape of the leaves is preserved.
Prayer plants prefer cooler temperatures and overly warm temperatures may also cause browning of the leaf edges. They resent being subjected to drafts or fluctuating temperatures as well. The soil should not be allowed to dry out or again, this may result in brown tips on the leaves. Plastic or ceramic containers are a better choice than pottery or clay simply because they will be less likely to allow the soil to dry out so quickly.
Because the prayer plant is so shallow rooted, it can be planted in shallow containers that are wider than they are deep. This allows the gardener to be able to use a unique container that is seldom suitable for other houseplants. About every two years the roots will become overcrowded and the plant can be divided and new plants can be started from the divisions.
The prayer plant is relatively easy to care for and it will provide enjoyment because of its distinctively coloured foliage and its unique ability to close its leaves upwards at night. It would be a good plant to add to any houseplant collection during the winter months.
– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba