By: Laura Miller
The prayer plant “Kerchoviana,” also called the rabbit’s foot plant, is a popular variety of Maranta leuconeura. These common houseplants have light grayish green leaves with dark splotches (which resemble rabbit tracks) between the veins. The underside of the leaves is a shade of silvery blue. Like other varieties of Maranta, Kerchoviana prayer plants roll up their leaves at night as if praying.
Growing Prayer Plants
The rabbit’s foot prayer plant is native to Brazil and is only hardy in USDA zones 10b to 11. Throughout the U.S. they are grown primarily as houseplants. This prayer plant is not difficult to grow, but just like other varieties of Maranta, they do require a certain level of care.
Follow these proven tips for successfully growing prayer plants:
- Avoid direct sunlight: These plants prefer bright indirect light and can survive shady conditions. They also do well when grown under fluorescent lighting.
- Avoid overwatering: Keep the plant moist at all times but avoid soggy soil. Empty the drainage saucer after watering to avoid root rot and use lukewarm water. Avoid hard water or tap water containing fluoride.
- Use a light potting soil: The prayer plant Kerchoviana does best in a soil based potting mix with good drainage potential. A potting soil mixed with sand, peat moss, or loam is suitable as is a ready-made mix formulated for African violets.
- Increase humidity: Growing Kerchoviana indoors is often too dry of an environment for this tropical species. To increase humidity, place the planter on a tray of wet pebbles or mist frequently.
- Keep at room temperature: Like most tropical plants, this plant is sensitive to cooler temperatures. They do best between 65-80 F. (18-27 C.).
- Feed regularly: Apply a diluted formula of balanced plant food once or twice a month during the growing season.
Caring for a Rabbit’s Foot Prayer Plant
The rabbit’s foot plant is an evergreen perennial. As a houseplant, it is fairly slow growing. Generally, they require repotting every other year and only if they outgrow their planter. Mature plants can grow to heights of 18 inches (46 cm.) tall, but growing prayer plants can be trimmed back should they begin to lose their vigor.
Prayer plants experience an annual dormancy period. Water less frequently and withhold fertilizer during the winter months.
They remain relatively disease free but can be attacked by a number of pests. These include spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. Infestations can be safely treated with neem oil.
As houseplants, Marantas are primarily grown for their attractive foliage. The rabbit’s foot prayer plant does produce inconspicuous flowers, if it blooms at all, when grown indoors.
Propagation is usually accomplished by dividing root offshoots when repotting or through basal cuttings.
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Read more about Prayer Plants
Maranta Species, Prayer Plant
Tropicals and Tender Perennials
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Where to Grow:
Suitable for growing in containers
Soil pH requirements:
From seed sow indoors before last frost
Seed does not store well sow as soon as possible
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Hawaiian Gardens, California
On Oct 30, 2012, exdoc55 from Hattiesburg, MS (Zone 8b) wrote:
My plant given to me by a neighbor upon our move from Beaumont, TX to Raymond MS in 1989(his was growing outside, sheltered, in mostly shade. I planted outside in MS and it was deciduous in action. After 9 years I returned to BMT, TX and continued to grow outside, again dying back in winter but always returned. Now have returned to MS in 2011, some 100 miles more southerly and is yet with me. Have divided at least 4-5 times to give during this time. Mine is blooming now in mid-late Oct./Nov. and looks great.
On Oct 19, 2009, seanjs from Orlando, FL wrote:
Ive had some in a bed next to a pond in mostly shade for about 4 or 5 years now. They die back each November/December and pop back up the following summer. They tolerated the Central Florida freezes (mid 20's) this past winter.
On Apr 22, 2007, rwielgosz from Washington, DC (Zone 6b) wrote:
This was a great little houseplant for me. I was given it in a pot with two other plants, and eventually the philodendron squeezed out the prayer plant and the other one.
I noticed that if it got direct sunlight, the red and even the pale green of the leaves would fade away. Move it back from the window, and the leaves would regain their beautiful coloration in a couple of weeks.
I acquired my prayer plant in one of those plant gift baskets and have since replanted it in a pot of its own. It is of a different variety than those pictured, with the patches of darker green, rather than the striping. Even though it has flowered and put out new leaves from the existing plant, it has just begun to put new ones out from the root. I received a pleasant surprise when these new leaves had burgundy patches, rather than the dark green. I did nothing different for the plant before the new shoots appeared, although shortly after they started sprouting, I added a plant spike. I don't know what I did to cause this two tone plant, but I am not complaining. It is very enjoyable!
An otherwise healthy "Prayer Plant" in our office was accidently knocked over and several clumps broke off from the root. We have been trying to root these in water however, they are beginning to wilt and curl.
On Jul 25, 2003, adairia from Tyler, TX wrote:
I have had my Maranta ("Prayer Plant" or "Rabbit's Foot") for about 20 years. The tiny flowers look like little orchids. I pull mine off always have. I was told the plant will go to seed and die if the flowers were not pulled off. It doesn't hurt it, and maybe helps. I will continue to pull the blossoms stems out.
Mine sits in a cache pot on gravel. I keep it fairly damp, and have never have repotted it. I cut off the old leaves, which can be easily rooted.
Beginner's Guide to the Calathea ‘Prayer Plant’
About the Calathea
Calathea (Marantaceae), or colloquially referred to as ‘Prayer plant’, are known for their very diverse, colorful, and beautifully patterned leaves. Combined with their ability to grow in lower light conditions, these make very popular house and office plants (bonus as they are pet and child friendly). Coming from the jungle floors of South America and Africa, Calatheas are flexible with their light source but are in need of high humidity. Luckily, grouping Calathea’s together increases humidity and gives you an excuse to buy more (in case your partner questions you).
One of my favorite things about Calatheas is their nightly movement. Named ‘Prayer Plant’ for a reason, their leaves move up at nighttime and down in the daytime as they follow the path of the sun. Called nyctinasty, this is done by altering the water pressure in their stalk. Many see this and panic thinking their plants are drying out as they appear to shut down but never fear, they will be back to normal in the morning.
Types of Calathea
There are so many types of Calathea and I recommend them all! Here are three of my favorites:
Medallion (Calathea veitchiana) - The Medallion is one of the larger-leafed members of this genus. With huge, round leaves in a “medallion” pattern and a dark magenta underside to the leaves, this one is truly a showstopper. Although indoors it may only reach 24” tall and wide, my mom’s (seen in photo) spends its summers outside and has become quite larger than expected.
Rattlesnake (Calathea lancifolia) - The Rattlesnake has long wavy green leaves with deep green brushstrokes across them and a purple underside, eerily like some slithering friends of ours. Coming from the jungle floors of Brazil, the Rattlesnake needs lower light but very humidity and, if you are lucky, can reach 30” tall.
Rabbit’s Foot (Maranta leuconeura var. kerchoveana) - A softer textured leaf, the Rabbit’s Foot is a lighter green with a greyish underside. It has dark green splotches across the top on either side of the vein which mimics rabbit tracks. This variety doesn’t get that large, max 18” but can start to trail slightly and with some pruning, can get very dense.
How to Care for your Calathea
LIGHT: A Calathea can grow many places in your home with very few exceptions. They do not do well in direct sun as it can bleach the leaves and turn them to crisps. Place your calathea in a part of a room that has low to indirect bright light. If it has to be a window, North facing should do just fine. Calatheas with darker leaves, such as the Pinstripe, do well in even lower light.
HUMIDITY: Now this is the part I struggle with the most, keeping moisture in the air. So much of this depends on where you live, the type of heating and cooling you have, and how your old your home is, but either way Calatheas want humidity of 50% or higher with some varieties preferring 65%. If you are like me and you need to supplement your humidity, you can purchase a humidifier (this is mine), place your calatheas in your bathroom (hot shower excuse!), and keep them on a tray of pebbles filled with water.
WATER: Because Calathea’s can be a little finnicky, I like to give them dechlorinated water or if you are blessed with a home, fresh water from your rain barrel. For easy dechlorinated water, I leave my water jugs out overnight which gives time for the chlorine to evaporate. When watering, make sure to keep these babies moist but pour away any excess water that ends up in your tray. Make sure to have a pot with drainage holes because if it sits in water it will get root rot. Keep an eye on the dryness of the soil and water when you feel it start to dry out.
CURLING LEAVES: Curling leaves are a very common issue with Calatheas. If your plant is sitting in too much light it will start to burn and curl inward. Move it farther away from the light. The other, most likely, reason is that it is drying out and in an attempt to conserve water, it is curling up. Water it immediately and you will see it unfurl soon.
BROWNING: Brown leaves and tips are also a common issue. This can come from a lack of humidity and, I have to say, is my biggest issue with this plant. Increase your humidity using the methods listed in the humidity section above. The other reasoning could be that your water has too many chemicals and minerals in it. Try using distilled water and see if that helps.
POTTING MIX: We want the soil to retain moisture but drain well. Use a mixture of 50% potting soil, 20% orchid bark, 20% charcoal and 10% perlite.
TERRACOTTA, PLASTIC OR CERAMIC: You may think that terracotta would not be ideal as it dries out soil faster, it can be advantageous for you. Because the pot is breathable it allows the soil to stay moist but not wet however, if you tend to under-water or live in a dry place, keep with ceramic or plastic.
GNATS: These damn things amirite? While you can use those fun fly traps for your plants, you need to address the reason they are there. With the moistness that Calatheas require, it can make an ideal home for fruit flies. Allow the top of your soil to dry out and instead water from the bottom for awhile.
Ranging from velvet textures to geometric patterns and magenta undersides, there are so many amazing forms of Calatheas and I hope this inspires you to fill your home with a couple. Tag me on Instagram with your babies @thegreenmadhouse and let me know if you have any questions below.
Rabbit Foot Fern Features: An Overview
- Rabbit foot ferns do not need as much humidity as traditional fern plants.
- Mature Davallia fejeensis plants can grow as long as two feet.
- Rabbit foot fern plants are evergreen and keep their color in every season.
- The Davallia fejeensis usually is about 18 inches when mature.
- The light-brown hair on this plant gives it the look of a rabbit’s foot.
- The rabbit foot fern is a Pacific island native.
How to grow maranta
Marantas need specific care in order to thrive. They need a consistently warm spot and bright but indirect light – keep them out of direct sunshine. Keep the soil moist from spring to autumn, and provide some humidity by misting the leaves daily or standing on a tray of moist pebbles. They need to be watered with filtered or distilled water, or rainwater – not tap water.
Marantas: jump links
Where to grow maranta
Marantas do best in bright, indirect light but will tolerate a bit of shade. Avoid direct sunlight, as this will scorch the leaves, and keep away from draughts. Provide a minimum temperature of 15°C and avoid rooms with regular temperature fluctuations.
How to plant maranta
Plant in soil-based compost. Repot in spring if rootbound, into a slightly larger pot. Marantas have shallow roots, so choose a pot that is more wide than deep.
Where to buy maranta online
Caring for maranta
Keep the soil moist (but not soaking wet) at all times from spring to autumn – little but often is ideal. Use tepid distilled water, filtered water or rainwater as marantas are sensitive to the chemicals in tap water. Make sure any excess water has drained away. Water less in winter, keeping the soil just moist. Marantas do best in a humid environment, so mist the leaves daily with tepid water or stand on a pebble tray that’s topped up with water. Feed every couple of months with a balanced fertiliser. Wipe the leaves occasionally to remove dust.
How to propagate a maranta
The best way to propagate a maranta is by dividing it. When you repot it in spring, gently pull apart the rootball with your fingers – you should find that a clump at the side comes away naturally. Check that each clump has a part of the root system. Repot both plants into fresh compost, in pots a little larger than the new rootballs. If a clump doesn’t come away naturally, you can cut through the rootball with a clean, sharp knife.
Marantas can also be propagated from stem cuttings. Using a sharp knife or secateurs, remove a stem from the main plant, ensuring that it includes a node. Allow the wound to dry for a few hours, then put the cutting into a small pot of compost or in water and wait for roots to develop, which can take a few weeks.
Growing maranta: problem solving
Leaves that are curling inwards are a sign underwatering, but will soon uncurl once you’ve watered it. Ensure excess water drains away afterwards.
Yellowing or wilting leaves could also be caused by overwatering. Marantas suffer when sitting in soggy compost as it causes the roots to rot (you may notice that the base of the plant is blackened). Allow the compost to dry out before watering again, and let any excess water drain away.
Brown patches could be caused by sunburn. Move your plant out of direct sunlight.
Faded leaves mean that the plant is getting too much light – move to a shadier spot.
Brown spots on the leaves are caused by leaf spot. Don’t splash the leaves when you water and avoid using tap water.
Brown edges on the leaves or brown tips can be caused by dry air – so boost humidity around the plant, either by misting or by standing on a tray of damp pebbles. You may have also overfed your plant, or watered it with hard water.
Red spider mite can affect marantas. The leaves and stems of the plant will be covered in fine webbing and the upper surface of the leaf becomes mottled. If you look carefully, using a magnifying glass, you will see mites and eggs on the undersides of the leaves. Improve air circulation boost humidity. Alternatively, use sprays containing, fatty acids or plant oils.
Raise Your Hands
If you’ve enjoyed spending time with this outstanding selection of prayer plants as much as I have, take a cue from these beauties, and raise your hands!
And if you need some tips on best practices for growing these gorgeous but slightly demanding houseplants, make sure you read our complete guide to growing prayer plants.
As a big fan of the prayer plant family, I find that being able to rest my eyes on such beautiful motifs and textures is well worth the level of moderately attentive care they require.
Which of these gorgeous plants are your favorites? Do you prefer the spreading types like ‘Fascinator’ or the more upright ones like jungle velvet?
The ones with symmetrical patterns, or those with marbled foliage?
Let us know in the comments – and if you have any of your own, show off your prayer plant babies with a photo or two!
If you’ve enjoyed learning about the many different varieties and species of prayer plants available, here are a few houseplant-focused articles that may be of interest for you to read next:
Photos by Kristina Hicks-Hamblin © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via American Plant Exchange, California Tropicals, Costa Farms, Emerald Garden Goddess, Hirt’s Garden Store, Hirt’s Gardens, House Plant Shop, Terrain, and Wekiva Foliage. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.