Growing Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii: How To Care For Calathea Fishbone Plants

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Featuring striking, striped foliage, Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii [ten-AN-thee] is an interesting houseplant and perfect for rooms without direct sun.

As evergreen perennials, the leaves remain on display throughout the year.

Interesting leaves of the Burle Marxii Calathea aka the fishbone prayer plantPin
Fishbone Calathea

It is part of the Marantaceae family (Maranta leuconeura prayer plant) and native to rainforests of Brazil and also an easy-care plant.

Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii is named after the famous Brazilian artist and landscape designer – Roberto Burle Marx, who I had the pleasure of meeting once.

The Burle-Marxii Calathea plant goes by several common names:

  • Stromanthe amabilis
  • Calathea amabilis
  • Never Never plant
  • Calathea Burle Marxii
  • Calathea fishbone
  • Fishbone prayer plant

Calathea plants need two things – shade and humidity.

Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii Quick Care Tips

  • Botanical Name: Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii
    Common Name(s): Fishbone Prayer Plant, Never Never Plant
    Synonyms: Calathea Burle-Marxii
    Family & Origin: Marantaceae family, native to Brazil
    Growability: Easy to grow
    Grow Zone: 10-12
    Size: Grows up to 12′ inches tall
    Flowering: Produces small white flowers in the spring
    Light: Bright, indirect light
    Humidity: High humidity, mist regularly
    Temperature: Prefers temperatures between 60-75°F
    Soil: Well-draining soil, rich in organic matter
    Water: Keep soil moist but not waterlogged, water when the top inch of soil is dry
    Fertilizer: Fertilize monthly during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer
    Pests & Diseases: Susceptible to spider mites and mealybugs, watch for leaf spot disease
    Propagation: Propagate through division or stem cuttings
    Plant Uses: Used as a decorative indoor plant, air purifier, and for its unique foliage pattern.

Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii Care

Size and Growth

Due to the region where this plant comes from in South America, it grows best in humid conditions. 

Burle Marx Calathea is recommended for USDA hardiness zones 10 to 12, for outdoor growth.

Outside of these zones, grow the plant indoors or in a greenhouse.

It is a slow-growing plant with a wide, spreading habit and may take two seasons to reach its full height.

The oval leaves grow in fan-like clusters and may reach up to 12″ inches in length.

The grey-green leaves are the most interesting feature of this plant. The striped fishbone pattern with dramatic dark green curving stripes on top of the light gray-green leaves. The underside of the Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii leaves often red or grayish.

Fishbone Calathea Plant Flowering and Fragrance

While Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii plants are not known for their flowers, they do produce clusters appearing at the ends of long stalks that reach through the thick foliage.

The flowers do not produce a fragrance and typically bloom in the winter or early spring. The tiny white flowers rarely grow longer than half an inch and produce cherry-red bracts.

Light and Temperature

Ctenanthe Burle Marxii plant prefers shade or medium indirect light. Do not place this plant in direct sunlight, as the bright rays can scorch the leaves.

Find a spot with some morning or late-day sun if growing the plant outdoors. Ensure the light requirements of this plant are followed.

When grown indoors, consider placing it in a room with an eastern-facing window with bright indirect light.

The plant can tolerate a wide temperature range but still needs to avoid freezing temperatures.

The biggest environmental concern is humidity. Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii needs moisture throughout the year. If your home doesn’t get very humid, mist the plant daily.

Watering and Feeding

Regular watering is needed, even during the winter. Water regularly during the warmer months while relying on rainwater whenever possible. In the winter, keep the soil moist. Do not overwater. Excess water leads to root rot.

NOTE: Add liquid fertilizer or houseplant fertilizer during the summer. Feed calathea fishbone plants once every two weeks to supply them with extra nutrients.

Soil and Transplanting Fishbone Prayer Plants

Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii requires moist, fertile soil with good drainage. Use a mixture of regular potting soil, peat moss, and a little sand.

For aeration, you can also amend with coco coir, pumice, vermiculite, or orchid bark.

If you move the fishbone prayer plant indoors during the winter, consider placing it in a large pot instead of growing it in the ground. It makes moving the plant easier and reduces stress on the roots.

Its growth rate makes repotting recommended every two years, as the roots can start to crowd out the pot. This is also the perfect time to divide and propagate the plant. Always repot using a pot with drainage holes.

TIP: Dividing the plant every three years helps the plant grow fuller and show off the dark green leaf pattern.

Burle Marx Calathea Grooming and Maintenance

Grooming is not needed for fishbone plant. However, like most plants, removing the withered leaves and cleaning dust from the leaves is always a good idea.

Related: Check out the many types of Calathea plants – Burle-Marxii’s cousins.

Propagating Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii

Propagate Stromanthe plants by division or offsets in the spring. This is the season when the plant starts developing new growth.

Use peat-based soil or regular potting soil combined with peat moss. Add a little sand to help with drainage.

For the division propagation, use 4″ inch-grow pots and follow these steps:

  • Carefully remove the plant, using extra caution when handling the roots.
  • Loosen the soil and separate the new growths.
  • The rhizomes you separate should have two or three good-sized stems.
  • Place the divisions in individual plastic pots and lightly press the soil.
  • Cover each pot with plastic, but make sure that there are holes for ventilation.
  • Set the pots in a warm, shaded area for several days.
  • Remove the plastic cover and water the new plants using the suggested Calathea care tips.

Calathea Burle Marxii Pests or Diseases

This plant isn’t an invasive species or considered toxic when ingested. The main threats include fungal diseases – rot, botrytis, and leaf spot. Pests include mealybugs and spider mites.

Direct sunlight causes scorched or discolored leaves. Too much light eventually results in your prayer plant dying.

Move the plant to a shaded area to let it heal.

Remove pests with neem oil, pesticides, or soapy water.

Fungal rot is common due to the high humidity levels these plants demand. If you detect any fungal growth, cut back on the watering frequency and cut away the infected areas.

Suggested Uses For Fishbone Prayer Plants

Outside of the warmer, humid regions, Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii is best suited for life in a room without lots of direct light.

Place it in an eastern-facing window or a windowless room (bathroom) with a lot of moisture.

Moreover, this plant is pet friendly and non-toxic to children, making it an excellent indoor, pet-friendly plant.

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