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What is Maranta?

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  • Written By: Todd M.
  • Edited By: Kathryn Hulick
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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Maranta is a genus of tropical flowering plants that have become popular houseplants throughout the world and are often used in regional cuisines. The Maranta genus is a member of the Maranteae family, also known as the Prayer-Plant family. Most species of the Maranta genus are low growing perennials that are native to the West Indies or Southwestern Asia. Of the approximately 20 known species of this genus, the most common species include arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) and prayer-plant (Maranta leuconeura).

The arrowroot plant is an important cash crop in regions where it is cultivated for culinary purposes, including the West Indies, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa and Australia. Archeological digs in the Americas have revealed that arrowroot was cultivated as a staple food crop as far back as 7000 years ago for its large, starch-filled tuber. The plant became a very popular export to Europe throughout the 19th century, where it was used extensively in British cuisine as a thickener for jellies and puddings. In the modern era, arrowroot is often used as an alternative to cornstarch as a thickener in various soups, stews and sauces.

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While arrowroot is primarily cultivated for culinary purposes, the prayer-plant is valued as an ornamental plant and is a very common houseplant in many parts of the world. The prayer-plant is a fairly small tropical plant that is best known for its broad, oval leaves that have striking herringbone-shaped veins. Prayer-plants require a considerable amount of humidity and should be misted regularly if they are not raised in a terrarium or greenhouse. The plants require very little other care so long as they are not placed in direct sunlight. These plants can be propagated by simply dividing the plant's root ball and grow as high as ten inches (25 cm) when they reach maturity.

In order to raise prayer-plants and other Maranta species as ornamental houseplants, the plants must receive a consistent amount of moisture. When the tips of the leaves of a Maranta plant begin to turn dry, the plant should be placed on a humidity tray and misted more frequently. Discolored leaves are a sign that the plant is receiving too much sun and should be removed from direct sunlight. If leaves begin to curl or otherwise look unhealthy, it is likely that the plant's soil is drying out between waterings and it should be watered more frequently.

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