Some plants have pretty exciting features, and one of them is Maranta leuconeura, also known as the prayer plant. This plant’s survival instincts prompt it to behave in an exceptional way.
So, do prayer plants pray? Why do prayer plants move?
Read this article to find the answers to these questions.
The unique tri-colored leaves of prayer plants have exciting features other than their gorgeous colors.
These leaves actually move throughout the day.
In the morning and afternoon, the leaves are flat to absorb sunlight. This position contributes to the plant’s outstandingly colored foliage and improves its ability to perform photosynthesis.
The plant goes through what scientists call the nyctinasty phenomenon in the evening and at night.
The leaves fold like praying hands, giving the plant its distinctive look and common name.
But this isn’t the only movement you can observe in prayer plants.
During the day, the plant changes the leaves’ angle several times during the day to capture more sunlight. Unfortunately, this subtle movement can hardly be noticed.
Yet, you can take photos or a time-lapse video to see this fantastic movement.
There are different theories regarding why exactly prayer plants and other members of the same family move their leaves.
One of the theories suggests that this position allows the leaves to capture rainwater better.
Prayer plants are native to the tropical regions of South America and survive off rainwater that falls most of the year.
They need plenty of water to survive and stay healthy. As a result, the leaves evolved in such a way as to help the plant capture all the water it needs.
Since the leaves are flat during the day, rainwater will fall off them and be unable to nourish the plant.
Yet the plant needs sunlight to process nutrients and grow. So, flattening out the leaves is essential to increase the surface area and allow the cells to perform the photosynthesis process.
As the sun sets, the plant no longer needs to keep its leaves flat.
So, it will fold up its leaves, resembling praying hands.
This position will allow raindrops to trickle down the plant’s leaves and stems instead of evaporating.
Moreover, it will decrease the leaves’ surface area so the water won’t evaporate quickly. It can also be a way to regulate temperature since this plant lives in humid and warm environments.
But this isn’t the only theory.
In rainforests, several animals feed on plants, and folding the leaves like this will make the plant less noticeable.
As a result, it won’t attract the attention of predators, and it can maintain its structure.
Another theory states that this might be an evolutionary trait to protect the leaves from insects and their larvae, as they might destroy the foliage.
The truth is that there’s no solid answer to this question, yet this mesmerizing phenomenon makes prayer plants among the most prized household plants.
Prayer plants follow what scientists call a circadian rhythm which humans, animals, and other living creatures display.
It simply refers to the sleep/wake cycle of different living organisms and how they utilize their energy best.
You can see this movement twice. Once in the morning and once at night.
In the morning, the leaves of the prayer plants will flatten out once the sun hits them. This movement is rather rapid.
At night, the leaves will gradually fold, and you can watch this movement happening slowly. Yet, this doesn’t mean that these plants are active at night.
Nocturnal behavior can only be seen in animals, so plants can’t be active at night.
Regardless of the nighttime movement, this is actually how the prayer plant goes to sleep.
It folds up the leaves like praying hands and maintains this position until the sunlight hits it.
Prayer plants show their nyctinastic or sleeping movement, responding to the light in their environment.
This movement happens over 24 hours, but it gets more dramatic at night when there’s no light.
It happens thanks to a mechanism called pulvinus, which is located at the base of each leaf.
The pulvini are joint-like cells filled with liquid and start moving in response to the light.
So, they expand or contract, filling up or losing size. When this happens, the pressure changes, and they cause the leaves to move.
Noticing that your prayer plant isn’t moving or praying can be concerning. But it doesn’t mean that your plant is dying.
As a matter of fact, this can happen due to several reasons.
Prayer plants move in response to the changes in light. So, if you’re keeping your plant in a shady spot, it won’t move.
It will try to keep its leaves flat as much as possible to capture more light.
This movement indicates that the plant is trying to sleep. If you keep it in a brightly lit room, it won’t be able to do this.
Prayer plants kept under grow lights or fluorescent lighting usually keep their leaves flat because they never get the darkness stimulus. You can fix this problem by moving your prayer plants to a room where it gets dark at night.
Prayer plants rely on the liquid in the cells for the pulvinus to move.
They require more water than most plants because they’re native to tropical rainforests. So, if you notice that the plant’s stems look limp, the leaves are droopy, and they don’t move at night, you need to water it more often.
Prayer plants are quite sensitive to changes in their environment, so temperature and humidity levels should be maintained, or they’ll stop moving.
These changes lead to a plant shock, which the plant can also suffer from after a transplant.
In most cases, adjusting the temperature, light, and humidity levels and giving the plant time will solve this problem.
If you’ve decided to move your plant to a new pot, you must water it thoroughly before touching the roots. This will make them more tolerant of changes.
Prayer plants aren’t the only ones that move. There are several plants that move for various reasons.
Calatheas can usually be seen like they’re moving their leaves, so some people mistake them for prayer plants.
Stromanthe plants also sometimes display similar behavior, exposing the leaves’ pink underside. They usually do this to preserve moisture in dry spells.
Other plants can also be seen moving, but their movement is different from prayer plants.
Venus fly trap is a carnivorous plant that feeds on insects. When the insect dives into the leaf to feed on the nectar, it touches the sensitive hairs inside the leaf, and the leaf closes to trap it inside.
Trigger plant is another carnivorous plant that moves when a pollinator lands on the plant. A club throws pollen to cover this pollinator, so it can pollinate other plants.
The leaves of the Mimosa pudica, or sensitive plant, move in response to environmental changes. As a result, they usually fold up when you touch them.
Prayer plants have a fascinating movement where they fold up their leaves at night, like praying hands.
Science is yet to determine why this happens, but it could be to help the plant retain more rainwater.
The mechanism itself depends on the level of liquid inside the plant cells, and it can be affected by various factors. So, if you’re not taking good care of your prayer plant, it might stop moving.
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.