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A close up of a Ctenanthe burle-marxii plant.
If you love patterned foliage, Ctenanthe burle-marxii is the plant for you. It’s striking indoor plant that needs little care. In warmer northern areas, it can also be used as a groundcover in shady outdoor areas.


What you need to know about Ctenanthe burle-marxii

Name: fishbone prayer plant, fishbone plant, never-never plant, Ctenanthe burle-marxii.

Height: 30cm.

Plant type: evergreen perennial.

Climate: mostly grown as a houseplant in New Zealand but can be grown outdoors in a warm, frost-free climate.

Soil: well-drained soil when grown outdoors; premium quality potting mix for indoor cultivation.

Position: outdoors, partly shaded (for example, under trees) outdoors. Indoors, it prefers a spot that gets bright, indirect light.

Flowering and fruiting: a bracted flowering spike with small, inconspicuous white flowers. Flowers are not typically seen when kept indoors.

Feeding: liquid feed regularly during the warmer months, reduce frequency in winter. Alternatively, use a controlled-release fertiliser at the beginning of spring and autumn.

Watering: allow the top of the potting mix to dry out between each watering.

Appearance and characteristics

Ctenanthe burle-marxii is a beautiful, low-growing foliage plant with pale-green, oval-shaped leaves and a lush, deep-green herringbone overlay. The underside of the foliage is a burgundy-purple colour, an attractive feature that can be seen when the leaves fold up ‘in prayer’ at night.

Ctenanthe burle-marxii is part of the prayer plant family (Marantaceae) but tends to require less maintenance than its relatives, calatheas and marantas. It thrives in shady outdoor areas in warm, frost-free climates, making it an ideal groundcover in tropical-style or low-maintenance gardens.

For a slightly different look, Ctenanthe burle-marxii ‘Amagris’ has silvery-grey foliage with light-green veins.

A Ctenanthe burle-marxii plant with pale-green, oval-shaped leaves with a lush, deep-green herringbone overlay.

Uses for Ctenanthe burle-marxii

Ctenanthe burle-marxii can be used as a groundcover in temperate, outdoor environments and look beautiful planted en masse under palms or other trees. Indoors, its pattern makes for an eye-catching standalone feature or combines well with other plants as part of a mixed display featuring other plants with contrasting foliage colours and textures.

How to grow Ctenanthe burle-marxii

Ctenanthe burle-marxii thrives outdoors in warm, frost-free climates. Give it a spot under a tree or in another shady area of the garden.

Indoors, Ctenanthe burle-marxii is adaptable to most conditions. It prefers a well-lit spot out of direct sunlight. Leaf edges may turn brown if the ambient humidity is too low. While this is not necessarily detrimental to the plant’s health, it can look unsightly. You can increase humidity by grouping plants close together or sitting pots on a saucer filled with pebbles and water. A regular misting will also help to keep the leaves happy.

Caring for Ctenanthe burle-marxii

Ctenanthe burle-marxii is a great low-maintenance plant for indoors and outdoors. Keep the plant's appearance tidy appearance by removing dead or dying leaves, and trim overgrown leaves, if desired. Re-pot every couple of years to encourage new growth.

A Ctenanthe burle-marxii plant in a garden with large green leaves with a darker green herringbone pattern.

How often should you water and feed Ctenanthe burle-marxii?

For best results, water Ctenanthe burle-marxii when the top 2.5-5cm of potting mix feels dry. To check, simply insert your finger into the top of the mix. The leaves will curl into a tight tube if the mix is allowed to become bone dry between watering – don’t allow this to continually happen as it causes unnecessary stress to the plant.

Feed with an indoor plant liquid fertiliser throughout the growing season. Alternatively, use a controlled-release fertiliser at the beginning of spring and autumn.

How and when to prune Ctenanthe burle-marxii

Remove dying or browning leaves and stems as required. Otherwise, there is no need to prune.

Diseases and pests that affect Ctenanthe burle-marxii

Ctenanthe burle-marxii can be susceptible to mealybugs, scale or mites. Treat pests with a suitable insecticide or miticide, ensuring you spray thoroughly in a well-ventilated area.

How to propagate Ctenanthe burle-marxii

Ctenanthe burle-marxii can be propagated by root division. This is best done when re-potting large and mature plants. Remove the plant from its pot and ‘tickle’ the root ball to loosen the soil. Use a sharp knife or secateurs to divide the plant, ensuring there is sufficient root ball to support the stems and leaves. Pot divisions into fresh potting mix and water well.

If you like this then try

Alocasia: an herbaceous perennial with fleshy stems and striking foliage.

Syngonium: this trailing or climbing evergreen perennial has beautifully coloured patterned leaves.

Cast iron plant: a tough, shade-loving evergreen perennial with strappy dark-green leaves.

Start planting today

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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