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Foliage Plant
of the month


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Marantas (Ma-RAN-tas), Calatheas (kal-uh-THEE-as), Ctenanthes (tee-NAN-thees) and Stromanthes (stroh-MAN-thees) are closely related, low-growing foliage plants that are among the Maranta group. The plants’ leaves are notable for their colored veins and blotched markings on backgrounds from white to the darkest green. While some do flower, this is rare indoors.

With proper care, these plants can live indoors for years.


WATER In spring through fall, water regularly with tepid water so the soil stays moist. Don’t use hard water, and note that some plants are sensitive to fluoride in tap water, which can cause brown leaf tips. Reduce watering in winter.
LIGHT Keep the plants out of direct sunlight; their colors can fade in light that is too bright, or their leaves can be scorched. These plants do well under fluorescent lights.
TEMPERATURE Average warm indoor temperatures are appropriate; avoid temperatures below 55 F.
HUMIDITY Mist the leaves frequently, or use a pebble tray to keep the humidity level high.
FERTILIZER Feed regularly with a half-diluted plant food; reduce feedings in winter.
PROPOGATION Plants can be propagated through division.

PESTS AND PROBLEMS Watch for spider mites, which are prevented through appropriate humidity and can be treated with an insecticide. Too-dry conditions also can cause leaf loss.
LEAF PROBLEMS Brown leaf tips may be an indication of spider mites (see above) or may mean the air is too dry. Remove the dead leaves, and mist the plant regularly. Yellowing, curled or spotted leaves may indicate underwatering. Limp stems indicate overwatering, particularly in winter.

• Maranta tricolor, also M. leuconeura erythrophylla (herringbone plant) - bold red veins distinguish this species, which also sports yellow and green hues.
• M. leuconeura kerchoviana (rabbit’s tracks) - takes its common name from the two rows of dark patches down its green leaves.
• Calathea crocata - unlike most Calatheas, this species has plain leaves but is known for its orange-red flowers that arise on thin stems.
• C. roseopicta - this showy species combines pale and dark greens with a dramatic rose-colored underside to its leaves.

FAMILY Marantas, Calatheas, Ctenanthes and Stromanthes are members of the Marantaceae (arrowroot) family, which also includes Thalias.
WHAT'S IN A NAME Marantas are named after Bartolommeo Maranta, a 16th-century Venetian botanist. Calathea comes from the Greek “kalathos,” which means “basket,” for the way the leaves cup the plants’ flowers. Ctenanthe is from the Greek roots “kteis,” for “comb,” and “anthos,” for “flower.” Stromanthes begins with the Greek root “stroma,” for “bed.”
HOME SWEET HOME The plants are native to the tropical Americas, particularly Brazil.
IMPORTANT CROP Maranta arundinacea, Bermuda arrowroot, is a species known to cooks because its roots can be eaten fresh or made into flour, also known as arrowroot. Some varieties of the Canna and Tacca genuses also have edible roots and have arrowroot among their common names, but they are not members of the Marantaceae family.

MARANTA The common name “prayer plant” describes the leaves’ habit of folding up at night like praying hands. Most leaves are about 6 inches long.
CALATHEA The leaves of the Calathea genus exhibit an array of beautiful patterns. Most have a reddish underside, and they can grow up to 16 inches long.
CTENANTHE C. oppenheimiana tricolor, commonly known as never-never plant, is the most prevalent indoor variety and has thin leaves that grow up to 18 inches long.
STROMANTHE Though less easy to find, the most common species is S. amabilis. Its leaf markings are similar to those of Calathea.

Some information provided by:
Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
The Chain of Life Network,
The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, by Barbara Pleasant
Dave’s Garden,
The Houseplant Encyclopedia, by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Kroger
The House Plant Expert, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) publication HS542, April 1994, reviewed May 2003,
Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names, by William T. Stearn

Photos courtesy of The John Henry Company

You may reach Foliage Plant of the Month writer Amy Bauer by e-mail at or by phone at (800) 355-8086.

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