Calatheas are sought-after houseplants thanks to their eye-catching appearance.
However, that’s not the only interesting feature of those plants. Calatheas also have moving leaves, which is why they’re referred to as “prayer plants,” among other common names.
Such a nickname makes you wonder: are calatheas prayer plants? Continue reading this article to find out!
Although dubbed “prayer plants,” calatheas are a relative of the genus Maranta, the common prayer plant. Still, calatheas show the same interesting leaf movement, which is why it got that nickname.
The moving plants are members of the Marantaceae family, like Maranta plants. That explains the close similarities between the two genera.
Even though it used to include over 200 varieties, the Calathea genus currently contains 60 species. Native to the tropical regions of the Americas, many Calathea members boast striking foliage, which makes for excellent pot plants!
Some of the common colors include pink, orange, red, and white. Aside from bright shades, Calatheas’ leaves also have beautiful patterns.
One of the popular varieties in this genus is Calathea zebrina, thanks to its large, decorative leaves. As the name implies, the former plant has lime-green veins on top of a dark green color. So, they resemble the stripes of a zebra.
Regardless of the species, almost all Calathea plants’ foliage has a purple underside, and for good reasons.
Sure, a maroon leaf underside makes calatheas visually pleasing. However, the deep purple color isn’t for aesthetics; it’s an adaptation to help the plants survive rainforest conditions.
As mentioned earlier, calatheas are native to tropical regions. Typically, those plants grow in the understory of forests.
The former layer doesn’t receive much light since the large, dense layer of trees blocks most of it. That’s when the deep purple leaf base enters.
The colorful leaf underside absorbs most light wavelengths, preventing the light from penetrating through the leaf. As a result, the dark pigments maximize light absorption, leaving nothing to waste.
Calatheas are called prayer plants because of their unique leaf movement throughout the day. During the night, the plants fold their leaves up like a pair of praying hands. When morning comes, the plants unfold to absorb sunlight for photosynthesis.
That rhythmic movement is called nyctinasty. The exact reason for that plant behavior isn’t known. Still, there are many hypotheses.
Among the benefits of nyctinasty are shedding excess water from leaves’ surfaces after heavy rain and discouraging insects from feeding on the foliage.
All those functions, however, are made possible thanks to the pulvinus. The former is a small plant structure that serves as a joint between the stem and leaf.
Pulvinus contracts or expands when a change in turgor pressure happens, a force within plant cells that pushes against the cell wall.
During contraction, the plant’s sugar concentration increases. That triggers the movement of potassium ions outside the cell (efflux) to balance the excess sugar.
Potassium efflux also causes water to escape the cells, causing them to be less rigid. As a result, the leaves close at night.
That drop in turgor pressure is reversible but slow. That explains why the plants unfurl during the day.
Now that you’re familiar with calathea plants, let’s discuss how to grow and care for them.
Generally, calatheas can be challenging to plant. That’s because they require specific growth conditions and aren’t hardy when neglected.
Calatheas only survive in tropical climates. That makes them difficult to grow outdoors unless you live in hardiness zones 11-12.
Most plants that flourish in those regions are tropical plants that love heat and high humidity. Even if you don’t live in those zones, you can still mimic the environmental conditions preferred by calatheas and pot them indoors!
Here’s how to grow calatheas:
Since those plants prefer partial shade, you should place calatheas in a place with indirect sunlight for at least 8 to 10 hours. They also need 8 hours of darkness at night.
An east- or southwest-facing window would be ideal for providing the mentioned light conditions. You can also rotate your calatheas to ensure the light hits all the leaves evenly.
As mentioned previously, calatheas typically grow in the understory of rainforests. Consequently, they don’t get much light.
Exposing those tropical plants to direct, bright sunlight can be counterintuitive. In fact, it can cause leaf burn and weaken the pigments, eventually causing the plants to die.
Calatheas love moisture, so you should water them regularly. However, be careful not to overwater those plants, as this will result in soggy soil.
Regardless of the plant species you’re growing, waterlogged soil is something you should avoid. The former prevents oxygen from reaching the root system, making it less permeable. As a result, the root absorbs less water and nutrients, starving the plants.
Not only will the calatheas show stunted growth, but they’ll also be susceptible to various diseases, like root rot and wilt.
To avoid all the hassle, always check the first few inches of soil before watering.
Simply stick your finger into the pot and pull it back. If too much soil sticks in your hands, there’s enough moisture.
Conversely, the soil is dry when your finger comes out clean, so you’ll need to water the plants.
Additionally, steer clear of tap water. The former contains excess fluoride, a mineral that can damage plants.
Like most tropical plants, calatheas thrive in warm temperatures and prefer relatively high humidity.
On that note, keep those plants at a temperature between 70ºF and 85ºF, that’s the range where they thrive the most. However, they can survive 60ºF, but not lower.
As for the humidity, generally, anywhere from 50% and higher is ideal for calatheas. Using a humidifier is the easiest way to meet those requirements indoors.
Still, you can use some DIY methods to raise the humidity. One way to do that is by placing the pots on top of a tray full of pebbles.
Then, fill the container with water, and make sure the pot’s bottom isn’t touching the water, as that can cause root rot.
Calatheas grow best in well-draining, loamy soil that’s rich in organic matter.
A potting soil that contains peat moss would meet the former requirement. Additionally, maintain a neutral to slightly acidic soil pH.
You can treat the calatheas with a liquid fertilizer every month or so during the growing season. However, hold off fertilizing those tropical plants in winter since calatheas are dormant during the cold months.
So, are calatheas prayer plants?
Yes! Because those plants fold and unfold their leaves throughout the day, calatheas are commonly referred to as “prayer plants.”
Aside from their unique leaf movement, those fascinating species are known for their beautiful foliage. A perk that makes them an excellent addition to your indoor garden.
However, taking care of calatheas can be challenging. So, make sure to provide the proper environmental conditions, such as indirect sunlight, high humidity, and well-draining, rich soil.
That way, you can grow healthy prayer plants and enjoy their stunning foliage for a long time!
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.