HOW TO GROW MARANTA (prayer plant)

An important genus of beautiful foliage plants, the marantas are closely related to calatheas. However, the marantas tend to be easier to manage in the home. being more tolerant to lower temperatures and humidity. Ideally, a winter minimum temperature of 13 deg C (55 deg F) should be maintained, but they often survive down to near freezing if kept dry. They will then deteriorate severely, the foliage turning brown and shrivelling. but even though damaged new leaves may appear with the return of warmer conditions. Their survival is probably due to their rhizome-like roots: one species not grown for ornament. M. arundinacea, is the source of arrowroot starch used for making easily digested foods for invalids.

The most important maranta grown as a houseplant is M. leuconeura and its cul-tivars. Their curious behaviour in closing their leaves together and holding them erect during the evening has led to the popular name prayer plant. A I.

leuconeura is also called domino plant or rabbit track plant, owing to the bold contrasting chocolate-brown spots arranged symmetrically along each side of the central leaf vein. The leaves are oval. pale green, and slightly ribbed. ‘Kerchoveana’ is a name often given to this form, the original species being variable in leaf markings. ‘Massan-geana’ has similar leaf shape, but is slightly smaller and more spreading in habit. The leaves also tend to be rather blunt at the end. They are pale green. with a contrasting herring-bone pattern and dark green blotches between the ‘bones’. The undersurface is a lovely rose-purple. A/. /. erythrophylla (also called M. tricolor) is a real beauty, but is far less easy to grow and is most intolerant of chills. It also needs higher humidity. A minimum winter temperature of 13 deg C (55 deg F) should be maintained to avoid the risk of deterioration from which the plant may not recover. The oval leaves, usually held more erect than in the other forms, are richly coloured dark green with reddish veins and yellowish mid-rib. Often the whole can be suffused with reddish tints. All the marantas grow well in any good potting compost, and can be potted into 13cm (5 in.) pots. They will benefit from

high humidity and should be well watered and fed in summer and autumn. Keep them on the dry side in winter, but regulate watering according to the temperature maintained. If it is rather cool. water very sparingly, and if conditions get very cold keep the plants almost dry. In spring, carefully snip off any dead or shrivelled foliage to make room for the new leaves. Old plants can be multiplied by root division in spring. Marantas are particularly useful for shady places and if exposed to too much light the best leaf variegation and colours may not develop, or the leaves may become bleached and pale. In summer. they will appreciate a spray with water from time to time. Aphids and red spider mites are the only possible pests.

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