November is a month about gratitude and counting our blessings. That means that this is the perfect time to add a prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) to your houseplant collection. Its foliage will charm you with its dazzling variegation as well as the captivating way it folds its leaves every evening as if in gratitude or prayer.
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About the Prayer Plant
Get ready for some of the most dramatic foliage in the entire plant kingdom! The gorgeous Maranta prayer plant has strikingly beautiful velvety leaves in a hue halfway between forest green and emerald. But that's not all. Each leaf has a line of canary-colored splotches up the length of the midrib and brilliant crimson veins that swirl from the center of the leaf to the margins. The underside of the leaves are scarlet as well.
The plant's coloring gets increasingly vivid as the plant matures. The Maranta will grow to 12 inches tall, with leaves growing up and outward, overlapping one another. This is a truly stunning variety in a hanging basket.
A mature prayer plant's leaves are big as your hands and drape from a central stem. They rest flat all day long but, as night approaches, the leaves rise and fold vertically, like hands in prayer. With the morning light, the oval foliage reverts to a horizontal position, until evening. This leaf behavior is know as nyctinasty, and it occurs in response to changes in the amount of sunlight.
Where to Find
Look locally for a prayer plant; they are extremely popular and a well-stocked garden store might have a few. Or head for a Walmart, since the stores carry a nice selection of Maranta plants from Hirt's Gardens.
If you want to shop online, the selection is exceptional. Try Etsy for a variety of interesting and attractive cultivars. Amazon carries a lot of prayer plants as well, although the prices are somewhat higher than in other shops. Price aside, we love this red prayer plant in a hanging basket. Terrain has a lovely offering, while Bloomscape will let you choose the color of the pot for an attractive presentation.
For all their fancy coloring and incredible leaf movements, Maranta prayer plants are actually quite easy to care for. They don't do well in direct sun, but otherwise accept low, medium, or bright exposure, which makes sense. Prayer plants are forest floor plants in the wild, accepting whatever dappled light comes their way.
Use peat based potting mix with a pH of between 5.5 and 6.0 if you need to pot up your prayer plant. Good drainage is critical as is appropriate irrigation. Wait to water your prayer plant until the top of the potting soil is just starting to dry out. If you water too often, your plant is likely to suffer from fungal issues. If you wait too long, the plant may suffer and even die since they are not drought tolerant. Never get water on those lovely leaves or allow the soil to become soggy.
From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. A professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler has written about home and garden for Gardening Know How, San Francisco Chronicle, Gardening Guide and Go Banking Rates. She earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.