Complete Care Guide for Never Never Plant / Ctenanthe setosa

Ctenanthe species (pronounced ten-AN-thee), Never Never Plants, or Bamburantas are lovely members of the Prayer Plant family, native to Brazil. Like all Prayer Plants, they raise their leaves at night like praying hands and lower them during the day in a fascinating process called nyctinasty.

My Ctenanthe setosa is young, so it’s only about 8″ high now, but it will grow 16″ to 24″ when mature and, given enough space, can expand up to 36″ in width. Its elliptical leaves have a herringbone pattern of dark green curved bands on silver-white with beautiful purple undersides.

Its elegant cultivar, ‘Grey Star,’ has purple stems and undersides and a whisper-thin, green, herringbone pattern on its silver-gray leaves.

Several other species of Ctenanthe are popularly grown, all clump-forming understory plants from the Brazilian rainforests:

Ctenanthe burl-marxii has oval leaves with rounded, blunt ends and a broader herringbone pattern than C. setosa or C. oppenheimiana and has purple undersides. Its most popular variety is C. burl-marxii ‘Amagris,’ similar to C. setosa ‘Grey Star.’

Ctenanthe lubbersiana has random bands of creamy yellow on the leaves from the midvein to the edge. ‘Golden Mosaic,’ ‘Brazilian Snow,’ and ‘Variegata’ are popular varieties.

Ctenanthe oppenheimiana is very similar in looks to C. setosa and has an associated ‘Tricolor’ cultivar with pink variegation.

All Ctenanthes are flowering plants, but they rarely bloom indoors. If you’re lucky enough, your Never Never Plant will honor you with small white flowers that grow on a separate stem.

Care for Your Never Never Plant

Ctenanthe setosa in white pot
Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

Ctenanthe setosa is easy to care for if you meet its requirements of indirect light, warm temperatures, and lots of humidity. Mine is growing happily on the kitchen windowsill, where it’s warm and humid above the sink and gets enough light.

Light

Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

As rainforest understory plants, Ctenanthes need medium to bright indirect light. Direct sun will burn their sensitive leaves, so keep it in a window with good light, but out of the direct sun’s rays.

Set your plant in an east- or north-facing window or back a few feet from a west- or south-facing exposure.

I had my Ctenanthe under plant lights in the winter, but it protested by curling its leaves since the light was too strong. It relaxed its leaves and was happy when I put it in front of a north-facing window with softer light.

Temperature

Never Never Plants do best in average room temperatures of 60 to 75 degrees F. Temperatures below 60 degrees will harm your plant, and take care to keep it away from cold drafts from winter windows or air conditioner vents. 

Humidity

Humidity is a crucial factor in Ctananthe’s care. They need at least 60% humidity, which is higher than in most households, or their leaves will curl and turn brown. 

It is possible to boost the humidity around your plant by a few methods:

  • Locate your plant in a group with other plants. They all transpire water through their leaves, so it’s more humid around all the plants when they’re in a group.
  • Set the plant on a pebble tray with water and keep the bottom of the pot on the pebbles above the water line to prevent the soil from absorbing the water. I keep my Ctenanthe sitting in a dish of water to boost its humidity. Its nursery pot is inside a decorative cache pot with no drainage holes, so I don’t need pebbles in the dish.
  • Use a humidifier if you have one. 
  • Locate the plant in a room of your house with higher humidity, such as the bathroom, laundry room, or kitchen, if there is enough light.
  • Mist your plant daily. Misting is less effective than the other methods, but every little bit helps.

Soil

Image Credit: Author/Nancy Maffia

Ctenanthes need rich, well-draining soil with ample organic material. A good-quality indoor potting mix amended with peat moss, perlite, and cocoa coir encourages good drainage. 

Water

These plants like to be moist without being soggy. Instead of relying on a watering schedule, I dig my finger into the soil to test the moisture, and if it’s dry a half-inch to an inch down from the top, it’s time to water. 

When you water, let it run through the soil and out the drainage holes. Ensure it drains completely, and empty any remaining water from the dish underneath the pot.

All plants in the Prayer Plant family are sensitive to the minerals in tap water, like chlorine, that can cause browning of the leaves.

Rainwater and distilled are healthy alternatives for your plants, or you can let a jug of tap water stand open overnight so that the chlorine can evaporate. 

Fertilizer

Ctenanthes respond well to all-purpose fertilizer you apply once a month during the spring and summer when your plant is actively growing. I make it a practice to dilute the fertilizer to half-strength the recommended amount, whether it is a liquid preparation or a powder mixed with water. If you use slow-release granules, only sprinkle half the recommended amount on the soil.

Fertilizing too much or too often can burn the roots and cause them to dry out and become unable to absorb water, eventually killing the plant. Half-strength is still effective and protects the roots from fertilizer burn.

You won’t need to water during the fall and winter months when your plant has slowed its growth.

Pests

The two most common pests of Ctenanthes are mealybugs and spider mites. Check your plant regularly on both the upper and undersides of the leaves to ensure no creepie-crawlies are chewing on its beautiful foliage. 

Mealybugs are scale insects with a cottony fluff on their backs, making them easy to see. They attach themselves to leaves and stems and suck plant juices, causing wilted, distorted leaves.

The way to get rid of them is to remove them physically with tweezers and hose the plant down to knock more off. 

Then, you can treat the plant with horticultural soap, Neem oil, or a 3:1 solution of water and 92% isopropyl alcohol with two tablespoons of Dawn dish detergent stirred in.

Spider mites are tiny, red, eight-legged creatures that suck the plant’s juices, causing leaves to become stippled, distorted, and yellow. The bugs are hard to see, but they spin a white webbing over the foliage that is easy to spot. 

Hosing the plant off and spraying it with Neem oil or horticultural soap will usually control these pests. 

Propagation

If the plant is mature enough, division is the best and easiest way to propagate Ctenanthes.

  1. You will need pots, potting mix, and a clean knife.
  2. Gently tip the plant on its side and remove the root ball from the pot.
  3. Find individual clumps of growth with roots and stems with leaves. 
  4. Cut down through the root ball to separate the clumps.
  5. Plant each clump in a separate pot and pack fresh, moist potting mix around the root ball.
  6. Set the plants in a warm spot in medium light and water them when the soil becomes dry at the top. 
  7. They will form new roots and become established in their new home in a few weeks.

Toxicity

Luckily, the beautiful Never Never Plant is entirely non-toxic to humans and pets, so you won’t need to worry about little hands and paws.

FAQ

Why Is Ctenanthe Called Never Never Plant?

Ctenanthe, known as the “Never Never Plant,” is so called because of its resilient nature and the unique behavior of lifting its leaves at night and lowering them during the day, resembling prayer movements. Native to Brazil, this durable plant showcases a continuous, lively display of its striking leaves, emphasizing its robustness and distinctive presence in indoor environments.

Author & Editor | + posts

Nancy has been a plant person from an early age. That interest blossomed into a bachelor’s in biology from Elmira College and a master’s degree in horticulture and communications from the University of Kentucky. Nancy worked in plant taxonomy at the University of Florida and the L. H. Bailey Hortorium at Cornell University, and wrote and edited gardening books at Rodale Press in Emmaus, PA. Her interests are plant identification, gardening, hiking, and reading.