Prayer Plant vs. Calathea: 8 Differences You Need to Know

The Prayer plant is one of the most interesting houseplants ever. It has gorgeous leaves that fold and unfold depending on the time of day.

The issue with the prayer plant is that it is frequently confused with Calathea plants. While both plants are beautiful, they are different.

The Calathea plant is commercially labeled as a prayer plant. But the actual “prayer plant” is the common name of Maranta plants.

So if you are confused between both plants, this comparison will help you easily distinguish them. We will shed more light on the characteristics and differences between the Prayer plant and Calathea.

Prayer Plant vs. Calathea
The main differences between the Prayer plant and Calathea are their leaf folding, leaf color, leaf shape, variegation appearance, leaf undersides, propagation methods, growth style, and care requirements. Both plants have variegated leaves, but the Calathea leaves have more prominent and diverse variegations.

What is a Prayer Plant?

The name “prayer plant” is the common name of the Maranta Lecuconeura. This plant descends from the Marantaceae and the Maranta genus. The secret behind this plant’s popularity is the folding and unfolding leaf action. 

During the daytime, the leaves of the Maranta Lecuconeura remain flat. At night, it folds up, resembling a praying hand. In addition to this exciting action, the leaves are beautifully variegated.

Its leaves have prominent reddish or sometimes white veins on a dark green surface. Additionally, the center of each leaf has blotches of light green. 

So generally, each leaf of the Maranta Lecuconeura plant reflects three colors. If you look at the backsides of each Maranta Lecuconeura leaf, you will find a maroon-purple shade.

The Maranta Lecuconeura makes its home in Brazil. So, it is a tropical plant that thrives in high temperatures and humidity. It does not like direct exposure to bright light, as it can fade the leaves’ vibrant color.

The natural prayer plant grows well as an indoor houseplant. But if you want to leave it outside, you should ensure the hardiness zone. It grows best in hardiness zones 11 and 12.

What is a Calathea Plant?

Calathea plants are one of the most highly preferred houseplants. They are also known as prayer plants, but they are not natural Prayer plants. It is more of a commercial label than an authentic expression of the plant’s nature.

Like the natural Prayer plants, the leaves of the Calatheas do fold or unfold. However, this movement is less strong than in the Maranta varieties.

Calathea plants are highly sought after as houseplants due to their beautiful, colorful leaves. These tropical ornamental plants are flowering as well.

Additionally, they require minimum care and maintenance. Calathea plants also come from the  Marantaceae family and have their independent genus.

Calathea plants are numerous, and they have different shapes. However, the vast majority have beautiful, large, and broad leaves. The leaves vary in several colors, depending on the specific plant variety. They have colored backsides as well.

Calatheas are also very forgiving in terms of care. Also, they won’t mind low natural light with infrequent indirect exposure to the sun. This is the best thing to prevent the stems from becoming leggy.

What are the Differences between Prayer Plant and Calathea?

Maranta Lecuconeura (“real prayer plant”) and Calathea are closely related as members of the same family. They are like cousins.

This could explain why these plants share some physical similarities and almost identical growing conditions. However, if you are experienced with both varieties, you can easily tell them apart.

1. Leaf folding

The leaf folding, or “nyctinasty” movement, gives the Maranta Lecuconeura its “prayer plant” nickname. So, it is a steady and noticeable action that does not change.

This movement is found in a few varieties of the Calatheas. Even when found, it is less strong than the movement of the actual prayer plant.

2. Leaf color

Typically, the Calathea group offers far more color diversity due to its numerous plantsAs for the natural Prayer plant, it has dark green leaves with a red or creamy midrib, along with light green all over the center.

Despite being a tri-color plant, the Calatheas offer a broader color palette.

3. Leaf shape

The natural prayer plant has ovate leaves throughout all its stages. However, the Calatheas have different leaf shapes. Depending on the specific plant, its leaves can be elongated, ace-shaped, cordate, or oblong.

4. Variegation appearance

Both plants are prized for their variegations. However, the variegation of the Calatheas is more diverse and different in shape, color, and space. 

The variegation colors and patterns of the Calatheas appear as if they are deeply printed on each leaf surface.

5. Leaf undersides

The actual Prayer plant and Calathea both feature colored undersides. However, their undersides do not have the same colors.

The backside of the natural prayer plant is more on the burgundy side. The backsides of the Calathea plants are more on the maroon-red or purple side.

6. Propagation methods

At this point, Calatheas and the prayer plant have similarities and differences. Both plants can be successfully propagated by dividing their rhizomes.

However, the Maranta Lecuconeura gives you another propagation option. You can propagate your mature prayer plant by cutting its stems too.

7. Growth style

One of the most unmistakable signs for identifying Calatheas and prayer plants is their growth style. Both varieties grow entirely differently. Most of the Calatheas are self-heading growers like the Philodendron Déjà Vu . 

The natural Prayer plant, or Maranta Lecuconeura, is a vining plant. So basically, they are either climbers or trailers. However, the genuine prayer plant thrives best as a cascading vine.

8. Care conditions

While both plants have almost the exact care requirements, the natural prayer plant tends to be less demanding. 

The Calatheas are easy to grow and maintain but require more warmth and humidity than the actual prayer plant.

Prayer plant vs. Calathea: Are they the same?

No, the Prayer plant and Calathea are not the same. They have the same natural habitat and family but descend from different genera.

The prayer plant is a common name for Maranta Lecuconeura. This common name is mistakenly used to refer to a few Calathea varieties. However, these are not genuine prayers.

The leaf folding movement is the first and foremost indicator in the Prayer plant vs. Calathea comparison. It is unmistakable in the actual prayer plant, Maranta Lecuconeura, while it is less common or evident in all the Calathea varieties.

The prayer plant leaves are oval and dark green, whereas the Calatheas have more shapes, sizes, colors, and variegation patterns.

The backsides of the leaves help identify the natural prayer plant and the Calathea. The former has a burgundy backside, whereas the latter has a purplish one.

As for propagation, both of them can be propagated by rhizome division. However, only the prayer plant can be propagated by stem cutting.

The growth pattern of the Calathea is primarily upright, as they are natural self-headers. The prayer plant has more fragile stems that allow this plant to trail and cascade. 

Lastly, caring for both plants is pretty straightforward, but the natural prayer plant remains much less demanding.

5/5 - (6 votes)