In a previous blog post we took a look at the secrets of growing those popular and gorgeous houseplants called Prayer Plants, or Calathea. In this post we are going to take a look at some particular varieties of these great plants, and learn more about them.
Prayer Plants were for a long time called Calathea by botanists, and by most gardeners too. In 2012 the botanists changed things, based on DNA analysis, so most of these plants are today correctly known as Goeppertia. As these changes always take a while to be adopted by ordinary plant-lovers, we will play safe and stick with ‘Prayer Plant’ for now.
Prayer Plants come from South America – a lot of our favorites are from Brazil – and they are related to the plant that produces arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea), eaten as a starchy food in many tropical parts of the world. They mostly live on the floor of the jungle, so shade is natural for them. That’s why they make such great houseplants.
Calathea (Goeppertia) share the common name ‘Prayer Plant’ with the original one, called Maranta leuconeura. That plant really does ‘pray’, raising its leaves to the heavens in the evening, as light levels fall, and quicky lowering them during the day, when the sun rises. It isn’t clear why they do this, but it must give them a significant evolutionary advantage, since this kind of nyctinastic movement (meaning at night) is very rare among plants. Because the leaves of Calathea are striped in a similar way, and they are related botanically, the name Prayer Plant expanded to include Calathea as well. Calathea don’t really show any pronounced night-time movements, but you might spot a shift in position sometimes. There are almost 250 species, but only a handful, some with several varieties, are grown as houseplants.
Striped Prayer Plant – Goeppertia elliptica
This is the houseplant de jour for everyone who is chill and cool. It has a terrific ‘neutral’ look for your Scandinavian taste, with dark green leaves striped elegantly in the palest green-white. To add to its elegance, look at it from above and see the gentle turn to the left of the leaf tips, like it was getting up speed to helicopter our of here.
It used to be Calathea vittata, but that changed when it joined Goeppertia. You might see ‘Vittata’ listed as a variety, but that is just an error. Like all of these plants, the leaves will grow pretty large after a few years of our careful love.
Round Prayer Plant – Goeppertia orbifolia
Another cool cookie, this great plant has the potential to be one of the biggest of all the Prayer Plants – 3 feet tall is certainly achievable in time. The leaves are almost round, horizontal and low when young, rising higher on the leaf stalks as it grows. The leaves have mid-green stripes arching across the leaves, on a pale, gray-green background. The glossy leaves are really eye-catching, and this plant is destined to become a centerpiece of your collection. You might have a vision of Bolivia as high-altitude desert, but a large part of the country is the southern end of the Amazon basin, and that is where you will trip over this plant growing wild – watch out for boa constrictors.
Pinstripe Prayer Plant – Goeppertia ornata
While most Prayer Plants have rounded leaves, this one brings a very different look, with lovely long, pointed leaves rising up in a graceful mound. Not at all ‘corporate’, these pinstripes are in neat pairs angled out from the central rib, on a mid-green background. Young leaves can have a pink tint in the stripes, and the underside of the leaves are also pink to light red. As the leaves rise on longer stems they also stand up more, showing off that pink back, and giving you a great plant close to 3 feet tall.
Peacock Plant – Goeppertia makoyana
Although a prayer plant, like the others, this plant has been around a long time, and it has always been called Peacock Plant, or sometimes Cathedral Windows – both for obvious reasons. A pattern of green stripes is set on a silver background, accentuated by delicate, slender green lines, all framed in a neat green border. This is a plant that tends to stay lower, and doesn’t rise to 2 or 3 feet tall, like many of the others, so it’s great where you want something smaller. It really benefits from high humidity, so a bathroom is ideal, or plenty of light misting. But, like the others, don’t make the mistake of keeping the soil too wet.
Rose-painted Prayer Plant – Goeppertia roseopicta
Called ‘rose-painted’ because that is exactly what ‘roseopicta’ means, this is a popular plant, with several very cool varieties. It comes from northwestern Brazil, and although typically small when you bring it home, the leaves can grow quite large. Young plants have short leaf stalks, and hold the flowers more or less horizontally, but older leaves have longer stalks, so a mature plant can stand almost 2 feet tall. New leaves are rolled up, and this plant can show some night-time lifting of the leaves.
The back of the leaves are a deep rosy-red to purple-red, and the upper side is soft, light green, with a wide border of dark green, separated from the lighter color by a feathery white border. Darker green and white or pink also decorate the veins, looking like they were applied with an artist’s brush. It’s a popular plant, and won the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 2002 – almost makes it royalty!
Dottie Prayer Plant – Goeppertia roseopicta ‘Dottie’
We don’t know what talented plant breeder developed this amazing plant, but It sure would look perfect on a table in Game of Thrones. The leaves are basically the same as the parent Rose-painted Prayer Plant, but they are washed with dark pink, turning the green to near-black, and the white lines to crazy pink lightning. Give it the same care as your other Prayer Plants. The best dark coloring will develop with higher light levels, but still avoid any direct sun, and keep the humidity high. Older plants will have long leaf stalks, and start to approach 2 feet in height. Place it in a suitable dark, decorated pot like you see in this picture, for maximum impact at home and on Instagram.
Shine Star Prayer Plant – Goeppertia roseopicta ‘Shine Star’
You might also see this beauty called Shining Star, but that isn’t quite right. It sure does shine, though, and this is a knock-out plant for all lovers of color. It has the same feathery detailing as its parent, but with a darker green center, and a broad band of feathery pink glowing around the edges of every leaf. Don’t be misled by its cute baby look when young. In time the leaves grow large, and the leaf-stalks get longer, and 2-feet tall is where it will probably end up. Consider yourself a successful grower when it gets to that stage. Pay attention to humidity – lots of it, and of course to watering and using a suitable fast-draining soil.