Ctenanthe burle-marxii (Fishbone Prayer Plant): Top Guide

Have you ever looked at a word you wanted to pronounce and only been able to think “huh?”

You’ll be happy to know you’re not alone – the Ctenanthe (pronounced [ten-AN-thee]) is a genus of plant coming from the Marantaceae family and exhibits the same, striking purple undersides to their leaves as the rest of their cousins.

Thankfully, the Fishbone Prayer Plant does not share the same, extremely finnicky needs as its family members the Calathea. Although the Ctenanthe burle-marxii is still a touch high maintenance, it comes without the dramatic diva personality of other, more popular Prayer Plants.

With its more relaxed personality and love of anything extra hydrating, this plant can easily find itself at home in a terrarium.

Ctenanthe burle-marxii (Fishbone Prayer Plant)

Where to Buy Ctenanthe burle-marxii (Fishbone Prayer Plant)

See the links below to purchase from reputable terrarium plant shops and marketplaces (may include affiliate links). 

US – See on Etsy
UK – See on Etsy

Fishbone Prayer Plant Care & Growth

Plant TypeFoliage, large
LightingBright to medium, indirect light
Temperature55-85°F (13-29°C)
WateringHigh, even moisture
HumidityModerate to high humidity (50-80%)
Growth4-12 inches


While we’re still on the fence about the common name “Calathea Fishbone,” we are still confident when we say that this plant has an easier time adjusting to fluctuations in lighting than many other Prayer Plants.

Direct light is too harsh for the thin leaves of this plant and it will clearly tell you so by curling its leaves inward from the sides to protect itself from losing too much moisture.

Instead, place the terrarium this plant is in somewhere with medium or bright indirect light, diffused by a sheer curtain or out of the path of the sun’s harsh rays.


Fishbone Prayer Plants are the dream plants for the overwatering plant parent.

Although this plant isn’t a fan of being waterlogged, it may hate drying out even more. The substrate of this plant should be kept consistently moist with only the top inch or two drying out before it is in need of more water.

If kept in a closed terrarium with other humidity and moisture-loving plants, your Ctenanthe burle-marxii will certainly be living its best life.


Ctenanthe burle-marxii plants are similar to the old children’s story of Goldilocks when it comes to its substrate; they like their substrate to retain moisture easily but still be well-draining at the same time. The easiest way to achieve this is by mixing perlite, bark or coco coir into into your mix.

Temperature & Humidity

Originally from the tropical, humid jungles of Brazil, this plant evolved to live in constantly warm and fairly humid environments.

Unlike the Calatheas of the world, the Ctenanthe burle-marxii is slightly less needy in these areas because they are built to withstand some less-than-favorable days than its cousins in the Prayer Plant family.


The Ctenanthe burle-marxii is a fantastic candidate for terrarium life because it typically stays compact and bush-like as it grows more mature.

Other species of Ctenathe can grow through throwing up long, tall stems and growing small groups of leaves, but the Fishbone Prayer Plant does not do this often, if ever.

If given the right conditions, this plant can even grow tiny bunches of yellow or white flowers!


Propagating the Fishbone Prayer Plant can be tricky for the beginner terrarium owner because it is done by root division, rather than through stem cuttings. This is a process that requires a plant to be uprooted from its space entirely and separating the younger roots and rhizomes from the original parent plant.

While this process can require more skill and understanding, these propagated plants can go straight into a new terrarium, rather than a temporary propagation station.

Varieties & Similar Plants

Because the Ctenanthe burle-marxii is a member of the Marantaceae family, more commonly known as the Prayer Plant family, it is often confused for any number of Maranta or Calathea.

While the Fishbone Prayer Plant’s leaves tend to be more oblong, it is still often confused for the Maranta leuconeura or the extremely similar in appearance Calathea compact star.

The nickname “Calathea Fishbone” isn’t helping it’s cause much either…

That being said, the Calathea genus is full of renegades, with both Calathea orbifolia and Calathea musiaca being reclassified as Goeppertia.

Common Problems

Luckily, the Ctenanthe burle-marxii is relatively hardy to most pests, not attracting anything or falling to anything bugs very easily.

The most common problems you’ll see with this plant is burnt or browning leaf tips or edges that could be from a wide range of causes like an inconsistent hydrological cycle, excess build-up of fertilizer or salts in the substrate or from simply being overfertilized.