PLANT OF THE WEEK

Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department

 

PRAYER PLANTS AND THEIR RELATIVES

 

Common names:      Prayer plant, Arrowroot

Scientific  name:        Marantaceae species

Explanation of scientific name:       

Marantaceae    - The Maranta or Arrowroot family of  plants (Marantaceae) commemorates B. Maranta, a Venetian physician and botanist of the 18th century.

The Prayer Plant is one of many members of the Maranta family of plants with beautifully colored and patterned leaves. There are dozens of cultivated varieties that have long been prized as potted greenhouse and houseplants. The Prayer Plant is undoubtedly the best known because of its unusual characteristic of folding and bending its leaves upright in the evening, as if in prayer. The effect is enhanced by the color patterns of the leaves. If one uses his or her imagination, the striped leaves can resemble hands that seem to clasp and move towards the heavens.

Prayer Plants and their relatives are quite tolerant of low light conditions, since they are native to the dense forests of Central and South America. Few plants can match the Marantas for spectacular foliage under the typically poor lighting of homes and offices. In response to a demand for new types of Prayer Plants and their relatives, plant breeders have hybridized and introduced many new cultivars. Innovative propagation techniques involving micropropagation have made them readily available to the public at florists and nurseries.

One species of the Maranta family, Maranta arundinacea, is valued as a food plant and not as an ornamental. Commonly known as Arrowroot, this large (2 to 6 feet tall) plant is grown in many tropical American locations for its underground rhizomes that yield a high quality and easily digested starch. Native peoples of tropical America believed the plant contained an antidote to poisoned arrows, and utilized it for such purposes. Early colonists came to call it Arrowroot, and it is still the common name for the entire family of plants. Today chefs use arrowroot flour in glazes and gravies; dairies use it in ice cream; dieticians recommend it for convalescing patients; and bakers put it in children’s' cookies and crackers. The United States gets most of its supply from St. Vincent, West Indies.

A Prayer Plant growing in one of Union County College's greenhouses.