The prayer plant (Maranta leuconeura) is a member of the Marantaceae or arrowroot family of plants. Originally from Central and South America, prayer plants have been cultivated for their showy foliage and are common in greenhouses and as houseplants. Prayer plant leaves fold and bend upward at night, giving them the appearance of praying hands.
Prayer plants are evergreen perennials and are low-growing ground covers outdoors. Their stems form branching clumps that can reach 2 feet tall, but are commonly seen at around 6 inches. The plant's simple, oblong leaves grow 6 inches long and 3 ½ inches wide. Prayer plant leaf texture is velvety, and its color varies by cultivar, with variegation and prominent veining.
Prayer plants are primarily grown indoors because of their tolerance for low light levels. They are also suitable for use in hanging baskets, garden beds and containers, in the right climate.
Grow prayer plants outdoors in dense to partial shade; the foliage will bleach in high light conditions. They prefer fast-draining, yet moisture-retentive, organic soil and relatively high humidity levels. Fertilize prayer plants every two to three weeks from spring to fall, and mist the leaves during periods of low humidity to prevent leaf browning. Prayer plants are cold hardy only in USDA zones 10 to 11.
Indoors, provide prayer plants with evenly moist soil, warm conditions of 65° to 85° F in daytime and 65° to 75° F at night, and medium light conditions (bright, indirect light). Fertilize with diluted solutions of commercial liquid plant fertilizer, and decrease applications during the winter months.
Maranta leuconeura kerchoveana produces foliage with dark brown or dark green blotches between the veins, resembling rabbit footprints. Maranta leuconeura erythrophylla (herringbone plant) has olive green foliage with rose-red main veins, irregular bright green markings and a reddish-purple lower surface. The cultivar Massangeana, known as corn plant, has blue-tinted leaves that become rusty-brown in the center.
Pests and diseases that affect prayer plants include nematodes, mites, slugs and root rot. When the plant is grown indoors, these issues are rare except for root rot, which is avoided by using a well-drained soil. Clean dust from prayer plant foliage with a soft, moistened cloth to reduce the occurrence of mites. Control a mite infestation with a diluted soap solution of three tablespoons dish washing liquid combined with one gallon of water. Wet leaves with the soap solution, and rinse thoroughly after a few hours.