Houseplants: Prayer Plant (Maranta leuconeura)

Continuing the theme of purple and green foliaged plants, I’ve got another oldie but a goodie for you: Prayer Plant, also known by it’s Latin name Maranta. Among my first houseplants – if not the first – I’ve had this one going on twelve years. Maybe thirteen? It was gifted to me by a college friend for helping him through one of our soils classes. I figured was a pretty good trade-off: I needed to study anyway and I got a free plant out of it! Win-win.

This little prayer plant has been with me, or rather apart from me, through a lot: it survived my 6-month-internship-to-Longwood Gardens-absence and my 18-month-LDS-mission-to-Argentina-absence (thanks mom and sisters for keeping it alive!). But a couple years ago I wasn’t sure it was going to survive my apartment. Though it is somewhat tolerant of lower light conditions, apparently the light in my bedroom was too dim. That and, because of where it was situated, I didn’t remember to water it as often as it would have liked. Ahem. Even plant nerds sometimes forget to water.

I wasn’t about to give up on it, and even though it was just a shadow of it’s former self I managed to propagate some successful cuttings {clip near the bottom of the stem, just below a node, place in a glass of water until you see roots forming – which can take a long time, so be patient – and then repot in new potting soil} and now it is looking as good as ever.

So, take heed and learn from my experience:

  • prayer plants thrive most in bright, but indirect light (don’t put it right next to the window because it can sunburn, but don’t hide it away in a dark corner either)
  • prayer plants like moist – not soggy – soil while they are actively growing, but during the winter months you can let the soil dry out a little bit more
  • prayer plants like a little humidity, so group it with other plants rather than having it all by itself
close up picture of prayer plant leaves

Prayer plant is anything but boring: multi-colored, patterned leaves that move upward or downward depending on the time of day is enough to convert anyone to a life of plant nerdiness.

The leaves of the Maranta leuconeura are the real appeal of this plant. The underside of the leaf is purple, and on the top surface of the leaf you see two or three shades of green dissected by the pinkish-purple veins. Not only do they have pretty patterns of purple and green, but the plant has a special trick: it will move its leaves up and down depending on the time of day. Since they are raised upward in the evening and morning – reminiscent of upward raised hands for prayer time – it was given the nickname of “prayer plant”. Recently, I’ve really been noticing my prayer plant, and how the leaves are positioned at different times of day. In all the years I’ve had this plant I can’t remember it being so faithful. Or maybe I’m just more observant now; this seems unlikely. A more probably explanation is that I just easily forget.

One prayer plant, two times of day. The top photo is how the prayer plant looks during the middle of the day; the bottom photo is how it looks during the evening/night and morning.

Regardless of whether you notice the leaves moving or not, prayer plant with its multi-colored leaves and relatively compliant nature is a fun addition to any houseplant collection.

What other multi-colored plants do you grow?


  1. Oh I love that prayer plant. I’m glad it could survive so much time without you (i.e. With me.)

    • I love it too. I think it did much better with you! It really suffered when I got married. Ha. But it’s doing well again and it makes me happy.

  2. Hi Heather, my prayer plant has developed a sticky underside to its leaves, the topside of the leaf is not as vibrant either it looks quiet pale, it is not a happy plant. Do you have any advice on how to revive it please?

    • Hi Andrea,
      Without seeing a picture, I can only take some guesses as to what the problem might be. But if it is feeling sticky my first guess is that there is some insect to blame. Insects with piercing/sucking mouthparts will often leave sticky residue behind (the sap that passes through the insect’s gut). So my first suggestion would be to clean off the plant with water and a mild soap or a horticultural oil. Look closely for insects both on the plant and on the soil surface. If it’s a bad infestation you might want to try repotting the plant and then making sure you give it proper water and light. I hope this helps. Good luck!

  3. This really helped me, thanks. I am over mothering my plants, I think. The ones at work are happy and healthy, but at home I watch them like a hawk and soon as I see a dry spot I water. But I am learning less watering is much better than over watering. I bought some Maranta Silver Band Prayer plant cuttings. 2 cuttings, and they are beautiful and exspensive, any idea how I can make it grow and have children?

    • Hi Jackie,
      I’m so glad you found this helpful. The care for your prayer plant will be the same as what I outlined here in this post. If you are starting with cuttings you can pot them up in individual pots, or in the same pot. With cuttings I like to cover the whole pot in a clear plastic bag to create a mini greenhouse. When they look like they’re established – new leaves starting to form – I remove the plastic bag and just water like usual, erring on the side of drier rather than wetter. After the cuttings you’ve purchased have each produced a few new leaves, you can start taking cuttings of them! I’d love to hear your progress. Good luck!

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