The Amazing Fishbone Prayer Plant: A Complete Care Guide

Ctenanthe burle-marxii, also known as the Fishbone Prayer Plant, may have a tongue-twisting name, but when it comes to caring for Prayer Plants, it’s surprisingly one of the easier species. With its distinctive leaf patterns resembling a fishbone, this plant is a great choice for those looking to venture into the world of Prayer Plants.

While some of its cousins can be quite demanding, the Fishbone Prayer Plant has a more relaxed personality and a love for hydration, making it an ideal addition to a terrarium. Let’s dive into how you can ensure your Fishbone Prayer Plant thrives!

Fishbone Prayer Plant


Prayer Plants are famously responsive to lighting, which makes them unique and endearing. These plants have a way of communicating with you when they’re receiving too much light by curling their leaves inward. This behavior helps protect their delicate green leaves from moisture loss and potential scorching.

To provide the right lighting conditions for your Fishbone Prayer Plant, place it in an area with medium to bright indirect light. You can achieve this by using a sheer curtain to diffuse the sunlight or by positioning it away from direct sunlight.

Calathea Plants on Shelf
Tip: For my Calathea plants, I placed them several meters away from the window to ensure they didn’t receive too much light.


Watering Prayer Plants requires finding a delicate balance. They thrive on consistent moisture but can also be prone to root rot if the substrate becomes waterlogged. So when watering your Fishbone Prayer Plant, be careful not to saturate the soil completely.

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The key here is to maintain consistent, even moisture. The soil should be slightly damp to the touch but never soggy. To prevent water buildup, it’s important to have a pot with drainage holes. In a terrarium, a false bottom can provide a similar effect.

Using distilled or deionized water is recommended for the Fishbone Prayer Plant. It is sensitive to the salts found in tap water, which can cause the edges of the leaves to wither.

Fishbone Prayer Plant Leaves
Tip: If you notice a chunk missing from the leaf tip, it could be a sign of sensitivity to tap water.

Substrate / Soil

The high moisture needs of the Fishbone Prayer Plant can be met with a water-retentive substrate. Look for a tropical mix that strikes a balance between water retention and drainage. A solid terrarium mix should serve the purpose just as well.

An ideal substrate for this plant would be a coco coir base mixed with elements that provide aeration, such as orchid bark or pumice. Vermiculite can also be used to enhance moisture availability without suffocating the roots.

Terrarium Substrate Mix
Tip: A tropical mix with good aeration, like this one, should work perfectly for your Fishbone Prayer Plant.

Temperature & Humidity

Originating from the tropical and humid jungles of Brazil, the Fishbone Prayer Plant thrives in warm and humid environments. While it can tolerate variations in temperature, humidity is a deal-breaker for this plant.

Closed terrariums, with their humidity-trapping properties and the presence of other moisture-loving plants, are an excellent choice for the Fishbone Prayer Plant. If you choose to keep your plant outside of a terrarium, misting won’t have a significant effect on humidity. Instead, raise the humidity level in the room by placing a water source nearby, such as watering cans or pebble trays.

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The compact and bush-like growth of the Fishbone Prayer Plant makes it an ideal candidate for terrarium life. It’s also well-suited for smaller spaces in your home. However, given enough time, these plants can grow quite large, usually reaching around 12 inches or more under the right conditions. Eventually, they will outgrow small containers.

Fishbone Prayer Plant at Market
Tip: Even though it may start small, your Fishbone Prayer Plant can grow to display lovely broad leaves, as seen in this plant from a market in Thailand.

If you provide optimal conditions for your plant, you might even be lucky enough to witness tiny yellow or white flowers!


Propagating the Fishbone Prayer Plant can be challenging as it involves root division. You’ll need a mature plant to begin with. Remove the plant from its pot and expose the rhizomes and roots.

Identify the clusters where the rhizomes and roots come together, as these are the best places to make cuts for new plants. Ensure that each cluster has a healthy portion of rhizome and a few leaves for the best chance of success.

Calathea Musaica Propagation
Tip: I’ve successfully propagated a Calathea musaica by following this method, resulting in a tiny terrarium-sized plant!

Unlike other propagation methods, these newly propagated plants can be immediately transferred to new pots or terrariums, skipping the need for temporary propagation stations.

Varieties & Similar Plants

The Fishbone Prayer Plant is often confused with various Maranta or Calathea species due to their similar appearance. The nickname “Calathea Fishbone” only adds to the confusion. While the Fishbone Prayer Plant’s leaves are more oblong in shape, it’s still frequently mistaken for the Maranta leuconeura or the strikingly similar Calathea Compact Star.

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Problems and Toxicity

Fortunately, the Fishbone Prayer Plant is considered non-toxic, making it a safe choice for homes with pets or children. However, it can attract plant pests that target its tender leaves. Spider mites are the most common pests, but mealybugs and thrips can also make an appearance. To combat these pests, neem oil and soapy water solutions can be effective. Alternatively, you can provide extra protection by placing the plant in a closed terrarium.

Remember, caring for the Fishbone Prayer Plant requires attention to its specific needs, but with the right conditions and a little extra love, it will bring a touch of tropical beauty to your home.

For more information about the Fishbone Prayer Plant and other amazing plants, visit the Ames Farm Center.

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