How to Grow and Care for a Never Never Plant (Ctenanthe)

Last Updated: October 16, 2023

Part of the Prayer Plant family, Never Never Plants (Ctenanthe) are known for the way they curl up their leaves in the evenings (it looks like they’re praying). With their intricate leaf patterns and delicate stems, it’s important to get the care routine right for these beauties or they will start to struggle pretty quickly.

The entire Marantaceae family are characterised by their colourful and partnered leaves and the Never Never Plant is particularly loved for its fishbone-like pattern. This is where it gets its other common name; the Fishbone Prayer Plant.

Never Never Plants can be grown outdoors but their rainforest origins mean they are very sensitive to frost. This is why growers tend to grow them in pots outdoors so that they can move them inside in fall and out again in spring if they wish. This prevents the plant from dying due to cold temperatures.

How to care for a Never Never Plant (Ctenanthe)

They definitely aren’t the easiest plant to care for as not only do they have quite specific requirements, but they can start to develop issues pretty quickly if something isn’t right.

There are a few basic elements that can ensure the overall health of your Never Never Plant and the first of those is sunlight. You want to make sure that your plant isn’t receiving any direct sunlight in summer. The sun rays will be too hot and intense for their thin delicate leaves and can scorch and burn them quickly.

The second thing to remember when caring for these plants is to keep a good level of moisture in the soil. We recommend a little but often approach to watering to avoid waterlogged soil but also to prevent the soil from drying out for extended periods of time.

Never Never Plant (Ctenanthe) Overview

Origin: Rainforests of Brazil

Latin Name: Ctenanthe

Common Names: Never Never Plant, Fishbone Prayer Plant

Plant Family: Marantaceae

Difficulty Level: Medium – High

Appearance: Long thin leaves with a fishbone pattern.

Height and Size: Maximum height of 7 feet (2.1 meters) and leaves can grow to a maximum of 15 inches long (38 centimeters)

Growth Rate: Slow-Medium

Flowering: Small white flowers in summer

Pruning: Optional

Cleaning: Use a damp cloth to remove dust every few weeks.

Light Requirements: Bright but indirect.

Water Requirements: Moist but not soggy soil.

Best Soil: A nutrient-rich, well-draining potting soil.

Ideal temperature: Between 50-80°F (10-27°C)

Fertilizing Routine: Apply a well-balanced fertilizer at half strength once a month during the growth period.

Ideal Humidity Level: Above 50% humidity

Propagation: Through stem cuttings or division of the mother plant.

Repotting Frequency: Every 2 years

Toxicity: Only toxic if digested in large quantities.

Risk of Pests: Rare but chance of mealybugs, spider mites, scale insects and whiteflies.

Common Problems: Dry brown leaf tips, edges or entire leaves are the most common issues.

Origin of a Never Never Plant

Native to the rainforests of Brazil, the Never Never Plant is an incredible houseplant to own as not only do they look incredible, but they can be pretty easy to keep happy too! You might be thinking that it’s impossible to keep a plant in your home that needs the environment of a rainforest to thrive but it’s totally doable.

When it comes to care, the best thing to do with houseplants is to think about mimicking their natural environment. Growing in the undergrowth of the rainforest canopy, the Never Never Plant loves high humidity, warmth and lower light levels.

Never Never Plant Family

Never Never Plants are part of the Marantaceae family (also known as the Arrowroot family). They are a family of flowering plants with over 500 species, native mostly to the tropical forests of Africa, Asia and the Americas,

Never Never Plant Appearance

Loved for their fishbone markings, Ctenanthe Plants have long leaves on very thin stems that grow from the base of the plant.

You’ll also notice the undersides of the leaves are an incredible dark red colour, which is characteristic of the Prayer Plant species and just another reason to fall in love with these incredible plants.

If you see these incredible markings on new leaves, it is an indication that the care and environment are right for your plant as when your plant struggles, the new leaves can sometimes be without silver pattern.

Never Never Plant Height and Size

Never Never Plants will grow to a maximum height of 7 feet (2.1 meters) given the right care and environment. As they age and mature, their new leaves will also grow larger up to a maximum of 15 inches long (38 centimeters).

Growth Rate of a Ctenanthe Plant

Never Never Plants definitely aren’t the fastest-growing houseplants but they will reward you with new leaves each growth season if the care and environment is right.

Flowers on a Never Never Plant

When it comes to flowering, the Ctenanthe Plant can bloom but it’s not that common nor breathtaking when it happens. If they do flower, they can produce several small white flowers in summer but they will quickly wilt and die. It’s really their leaf patterns that make them special rather than the flowering.

Pruning your Never Never Plant

Whilst they aren’t the tallest growers, they will grow sideways if given the chance so can become quite bushy. This is definitely a consideration to make when finding the best spot for your Never Never Plant and pruning might have to be something to pop into your yearly routine if you want to shape your plant.

Cleaning your Never Never Plant

To clean the leaves of your Ctenanthe Plant we recommend regularly wiping them down with a damp cloth to remove dust. Avoid using leaf shine as this can damage the variegation on the leaves.

If just a damp cloth isn’t enough to remove dust and dirt, then you can use a drop or two of dish soap but avoid any other cleaning products or chemicals.

Light Requirements for a Never Never Plant

You want to find a spot that has ample bright sunlight but no direct light. As Never Never Plants have very delicate leaves, if they are exposed to intense direct sunlight it can scorch the leaves or cause them to fade. This will show up as yellowy-brown patches across the leaves.

Direct light can also dry out the plant quite quickly which can cause a whole range of other issues.

On the other extreme, when it comes to lower light levels, your Ctenanthe can tolerate some spots with lower light levels but over time this will start to impact your plant. You’ll first notice the leaves starting to lose their variegation and growth tends to be quite leggy or stunted.

If your Ctenanthe Plant is receiving too little light, it will start to grow towards the light source. This is a good early warning sign that your plant might need to be moved to a sunnier spot in your home.

Water Requirements for a Never Never Plant

Water your Never Never Plant little but often to keep even moisture in the soil as they like to have moist soil but not soggy. It can be a bit of a balancing act to achieve this but checking up on your plant regularly and checking the moisture levels in the soil will help you to get to know your plant’s needs.

This is why we recommend watering them often but only with a little bit of water each time. This keeps the potting mix moist but prevents any risk of overwatering and root rot.

We strongly recommend picking up a moisture meter if you don’t already own one. These affordable little devices will literally tell you how soggy the soil is and can be a real lifesaver if you’re unsure of how much to water. Other techniques like the finger or chopstick method are also a must-do with these plants.

Best Soil for a Never Never Plant

Ctenanthe like to have a well-draining potting mix so make sure to choose one that includes some perlite as this helps with both drainage and aeration. You can buy perlite separately and add it into any potting mix which is always a good idea with these plants.

Ideal temperature for your Never Never Plant

To keep your Ctenanthe Plant happy they need room temperatures or above but be cautious about any kind of extreme temperature as yes, there is such thing as too hot a room for your plant.

It’s important to keep them away from drafty doors or windows as the cool air from outside can damage the plant. This is especially damaging in winter when temperatures can really drop. Never Never Plants are very sensitive to frost so it’s an important one to be aware of.

You also want to keep your plant away from air conditioning units as whilst the cool air might be refreshing for you during summer, it can wreak havoc on your plant.

But it’s not just cold temperatures that can harm your plant. If they are being exposed to hotspots then this can dry out the plant and cause it to crisp up. Be aware of placing your Ctenanthe too close to radiators or cookers and monitor areas around windows during summer as the heat can get trapped there.

Using a digital thermometer can really help you keep track of any fluctuations and make any needed changes to prevent issues from developing.

Never Never Plant Fertilizer Requirements

Apply a well-balanced, water-soluble fertilizer once a month during spring and summer. Ideally, dilute it more than the recommended amount to avoid fertilizer burn.

Cut back fertilizing your plant during autumn and winter as this is the dormant phase and your plant won’t be producing any new growth for a few months. Fertilizing during this time can be really damaging to the health of your plant and its root system.

Ideal Humidity Level for your Never Never Plant

As they are native to the rainforest of Brazil, Ctenanthe Plants thrive in humid environments so require a 50% humidity level or above to prevent the leaves from drying out.

The best way to do this is by misting the leaves several times a week. We also recommend buying a humidifier as your humidity-loving plants will thank you for it!

Another option for keeping a nice steady humidity level for your plant is to move it into the bathroom (if it will get enough natural sunlight). Bathrooms are naturally more humid than the rest of your home due to steam released when showering.

Propagating your Never Never Plant

You can propagate your Never Never Plant either through stem cuttings or division. If you have a mature and large plant, then we recommend propagating through division as this is a quicker and more successful method.

However, if you don’t want to take too much away from your mother plant, then propagating through stem cuttings is another great option. Do note though that this is a much slower process and the success rate is a lot lower than propagating through division.

Repotting your Ctenanthe Plant

As they are fairly slow growers, you should only need to repot your Never Never Plant on average every 2 years. Look out for signs that your plant is rootbound such as roots growing out of the bottom of the drainage holes or popping out of the top of the pot.

If your plant isn’t growing any new leaves throughout the entire growth period, then a cause of this may be that it needs to be repotted into a large pot. Note that there are other causes for stagnant growth, however, so be sure to check over the care, environment and root system for any other potential causes.

Never Never Plant Toxicity to Humans and Pets

Technically, Never Never Plants are considered as safe and non-toxic for pets by the ASPCA. However, when Ctenanthe plants are ingested in very large quantities it can cause some irritation but is not life-threatening.

Treating and Preventing Pests

Although a pest infestation is rare, Never Never Plants can suffer from mealybugs, spider mites, scale insects and whiteflies. The most common way of a pest infestation spreading onto your plant is if it spends any time growing outdoors.

If you do spot signs of pests, or the pests themselves on the leaves then isolate your plant from all other houseplants and check each of your plants for pests. The next step is to remove the worst affected areas of the plant as this will cut the size of the infestation and make it slightly easier to treat.

You then need to start a rigorous treatment of neem oil and insecticide to fight the infestation.

Never Never Plant Common Problems

These plants can be a little bit fussy when it comes to their environment and can start to develop issues quickly if something isn’t right. Because of this, it’s likely that you will run into a few of these issues below so it’s important to know what to look for, as well as how to treat the problem.

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