The American Association of Poison Control Centers states that prayer plants
are nontoxic to people. Many university botany departments also list the plant
as nontoxic. The Animal Poison Control Center at the American Society for
the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) lists the prayer plant as
nontoxic to dogs and cats.
The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia points out that even nontoxic plants may present a risk for choking or stomach upset, particularly for young children.
Native to the dense forests of tropical Central and South America, the prayer
plant is a member of the Marantaceae, or arrowroot, family of plants. It was
named after an 18th century Venetian physician and botanist. It was also
named for the characteristic folding of its leaves upright in the evening, as if in
prayer. The striking red veins of the foliage also resemble the fingers of
clasped hands, adding to the effect.
Arrowroot, or arara root, was so named by colonists because the indigenous people
of tropical America used the root of the plant as an antidote to poison arrows.
One arrowroot species, Maranta arundinacea, is valued as a food plant.
This larger species grows from 2 to 6 feet tall in Central and South America. Their
rhizomes yield an easily digested starch. Bakers include arrowroot in children's cookies and crackers, chefs include it in glazes and gravies and dairies add the ingredient to ice cream.
Because they are native to the dense forests, prayer plants and their relatives
are very tolerant of low-light, and therefore well-suited to the poor lighting
conditions of houses and offices. Because of this and their stunning foliage,
plant breeders have introduced many new and beautiful hybrids of this prized
Considered easy to grow, they thrive in bright, indirect sunlight and
well-drained soil. Because of its tropical origins, the plant loves high humidity
and to be kept moist, but not soggy. Indoor gardeners recommend using
warm water, but to also keep the plant drier during winter dormancy. Daily
misting is also recommended. The ideal temperature for the arrowroot plant
is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
The prayer plant can be propagated by division in the springtime. If a piece of
the plant breaks off, it can also be placed directly into the soil.
Several groups of plants make up the Marantaceae family, which include Calathea, Ctenanthe, Stromanthe and the Marantas, which are the easiest to grow.