Genus of about 20 species from tropical Central and South America. Densely spreading clumps of stems hold attractive leaves typically marked with colorful, interesting patterns.
M. arundinacea. ARROWROOT. Slender branches grow 6 ft. tall, with small white flowers and tropical-looking dark green leaves to 10 in. long. Spreads by rhizomes, which are the source of the arrowroot starch used as a thickening agent for sauces, puddings, and fruit pie fillings. M. a. 'Variegata' has dark green leaves variegated with light green and yellowish green. A form with reddish purple leaves is sometimes offered.
M. leuconeura. PRAYER PLANT. Satiny dark green leaves with light green and brownish black markings, silver or red veins. Spreads by rhizomes to make a striking ground cover in tropical gardens; soil must be rich and fast draining, air very warm and humid. The 5-in.-long leaves lie flat during the day, then fold toward the center of the plant at nighthence the common name prayer plant. Flowers are insignificant. M. l. erythroneura has red veins; M. l. kerchoveana, known as rabbit's foot, has light green leaves with dark blotches (like animal tracks) on either side of the midrib.
Indoors, locate out of direct light. Keep soil moist during the growing season, and use a humidifier to keep moisture in the air; maintain night temperatures above 55F. Indoors or out, feed monthly during summer with a general-purpose liquid houseplant fertilizer.