If a prayer plant’s leaves become wrinkled, it means that there is an environmental factor that is causing the plant stress, resulting in the change in leaf texture.
The wrinkling of the leaves is a sign that the plant has begun adapting to its altered environment in order to prolong its survival.
To correct this wrinkling, you need to be able to correctly identify the cause of the problem so that it can be resolved and treated as soon as possible.
The most common causes of wrinkled prayer plant leaves are low humidity, excessive sunlight, temperature stress, overwatering, underwatering, poor water quality, the plant being rootbound, or pests.
In this article, we will discuss each of the possible reasons your prayer plant’s leaves are wrinkled, and how to fix them.
Why are my prayer plant’s leaves wrinkled?
1. Low humidity
Prayer plants are native to the swampy rainforests of Central and South America. That means they are used to being in warm, humid environments. If you live in a place that is drier than normal and has a lower humidity level than the prayer plant prefers, it should come as no surprise if the plant’s leaves become wrinkled from the decreased moisture in the air around it. To keep a plant happy, one must be able to simulate, as closely as possible, the growing conditions of the plant’s natural habitat.
To fix wrinkled leaves caused by low humidity, you can mist the plant with water once in a while so that the leaves do not dry out. You can also place the plant’s pot on top of a pebble tray filled with water. When the water in the pebble tray evaporates, it will moisten the leaves and the soil in the pot. Another trick is to group the plant next to other humidity-loving plants, so that together they can create a microclimate around their group. You can also place the plant in the bathroom, kitchen or laundry room, as these are the most humid rooms in most houses. Finally, if you have the money to spare, you can always just buy a humidifier to automatically regulate the humidity in the room where the plant is kept.
2. Excessive light
As mentioned above, prayer plants live in the rainforest and, since they grow close to the ground, they are protected from harsh sunlight by the canopy of large trees.
Prayer plants have adapted to not getting very much light because of this tree canopy, and they have evolved to be able to trap sunlight in their leaves. If you look at the bottom of a prayer plant’s leaves, they are either maroon or white in color. This solid color does not allow light to pass through the leaf, and it becomes trapped inside the leaf instead. The plant can then store all this energy for later use.
These plants do best in indirect light and will burn quite easily if exposed to direct light, especially for extended periods of time. The sun damage includes the loss of moisture in the leaves, which causes wrinkling and curling.
In order to save your plant, simply move it to another spot where it will only be getting bright, indirect light. If you keep the plant outside, put it on the porch or patio, under a large tree or under a garden net. Never leave the plant out in direct sunlight for the majority of the day.
Because these plants do well in low light conditions, they are great office plants. Just make sure that they still get enough light to remain healthy.
When placing the plant near a window, choose a north- or east-facing window. If the only window available is letting in harsh light, you can diffuse the light by placing a sheer curtain over the window. Do not forget to turn the pot every couple of days so that all sides of the plant can get their time in the sun. This will also help to keep the growth of the leaves symmetrical. If one side of the plant is deprived of light, it will compensate by growing in the direction of the light. This will not kill the plant, but it will definitely affect its overall aesthetic.
During the winter, when light is weak and scarce, you can use a grow light to help the plant get its much needed daily light.
3. Temperature stress
Both too much cold and too much warmth are bad for the prayer plant. If you leave the plant out during the winter, the frost will damage it and may cause the leaves to wrinkle. Bring the plant inside for the winter, but do not place it under a heating vent or next to a radiator or furnace. The high temperature can dry out the plant, causing the leaves to wrinkle as well. If you place the plant near doors or windows that lead outdoors, the cold drafts coming through the cracks can also dry out the plant’s leaves. The prayer plant’s leaves will wrinkle and curl to decrease their surface area, which is an adaptive measure to prevent the plant from drying out so quickly.
To save the plant from temperature extremes, make sure you bring it indoors when the weather starts becoming cold. Do not leave it out under the summer sun, and keep it away from heating vents, radiators, furnaces and air conditioners to avoid exposure to warm or cold drafts. Generally, the room temperature in most homes is fine for the plant, as long as you keep it away from drafts.
You may think that because prayer plants live in the rainforest, they like to be watered constantly, but this is not the case. If you give the plant more water that it needs every time you water it, or if you water the plant more often than you need to, it will become overwatered. This can also happen if you leave the plant out in the pouring rain for days or weeks, if you use a pot that does not have drainage holes at the bottom, or if you use potting soil that is not sufficiently well-draining. One sign of overwatering is the wrinkling and the drooping of the plant’s leaves. This is because the leaves are so full of water that they can no longer photosynthesize effectively. The roots of an overwatered plant also become compromised and are unable to absorb the nutrients that the plant needs to stay sturdy and healthy.
The worst-case scenario for an overwatered plant is root rot. This happens when a plant’s roots are constantly sitting in waterlogged soil, and they drown and die. The dead roots will begin to rot and will be susceptible to opportunistic pathogens. These pathogens will make the root rot even more aggressive, helping it spread faster to the rest of the plant. Before you know it, the entire plant will be affected by the rot. By this point, the plant can no longer be saved and you are better off starting anew with a different plant.
Save an overwatered plant by immediately refraining from watering it. If you were able to catch your error early and there is no root rot yet, you can just let the soil in the pot dry out before watering it again. This will give the plant enough time to recover and have access to oxygen.
The best way to know when your plant needs to be watered is by feeling the top two inches of soil in the pot. If the soil is dry, water the plant, but if the soil is still damp, wait one or two days before checking it again.
If you suspect root rot, remove the plant from the pot and wash off as much of the old soil as possible. Inspect the roots for brown and black segments; these parts are rotten and you will need to cut them off using a sterilized knife or scissors. Spray the remaining roots with fungicide and allow the plant to air-dry for a couple of hours. After drying, replant it in a pot with drainage holes, using well-draining potting soil.
Underwatering the plant may be a less serious mistake when it comes to the prayer plant, but neglecting to water it for long periods of time will also cause its leaves to wrinkle due to a lack of moisture. The wrinkling and curling is the plant’s way of conserving its limited resources and prioritizing its roots in order to survive. The less foliage that needs to be supplied with water, the more water can be stored for emergency situations.
Fortunately, it is much easier to save an underwatered plant than an overwatered one. You just need to water the plant until all of the soil in the pot is soaked. If the soil has been dry for a long time, it may have become compacted and you will need to loosen it a bit before watering it. Water the soil until excess water is flowing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. You may need to water the plant more frequently than normal in the first couple of weeks until it has completely recovered, after which you can just go back to watering it when the top two inches of soil are dry.
The key to avoiding both overwatering and underwatering is to figure out how exactly what watering schedule your plant prefers. You will need to tweak this schedule according to the climate where you live, the season of the year and the current weather conditions.
6. Water quality
Another reason your prayer plant’s leaves may be wrinkling is the mineral and iron content of the water you are using. If you use tap water to water your prayer plant, over time the minerals will accumulate in the soil and this can lead to soil toxicity. The accumulation can get so bad that they can build up on the plant’s roots as well. This affects the plant’s overall health and could cause root burn; it will also cause the leaves to curl and wrinkle.
The best way to avoid the accumulation of minerals in the soil is to use rainwater or distilled water for your plant. Rainwater and distilled water do not have as much mineral content as tap water and will not contribute as much to soil toxicity. If you think that there is too much mineral buildup in your plant’s soil, you can either change the soil in the pot or you can flush the soil with distilled water.
7. The plant is rootbound
The main reason your plant becomes rootbound is that it has outgrown its pot. Because the roots no longer have space to grow into, they will grow into whatever space they can find. This causes the roots to become entangled. A prayer plant that has outgrown its pot will have roots that are visible above the soil or growing out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. Because the roots are severely compromised, the plant’s growth will be stunted and the leaves will turn yellow and become wrinkled and curled. This is due to the lack of moisture and nutrients in the soil, because of the overwhelming growth of the roots.
The only way to save a rootbound prayer plant is by repotting it in a new pot that is bigger than the old one. Remember that the new pot should not be too large, because this can lead to overwatering. A large pot means more soil in the pot, more soil in the pot means more water retained, and more water retained leads to overwatering and possibly root rot. Ideally, a pot that is one size larger than the old one is sufficient. Make sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom and that the soil you are using is well-draining.
The most commonly observed pests in prayer plants are mealy bugs, scale insects, fungus gnats and spider mites. These pests can cause the plant’s leaves to wrinkle because they feed on the sap, or juices, of the leaves, causing them to dry out and wrinkle.
If you suspect that your plant has pests, take it to a different part of the house, far away from your other healthy plants. This will keep the pests from spreading. You can lay down a sticky trap for the gnats as well as for other flying pests. You can also spray the plant with water from a garden hose to knock the pests off. You can use an insecticide made specifically for houseplants, or spray the plant with a solution of neem oil and water. Treat the plant once a week for a month to make sure that all of the pests have been eradicated. Place the plant back in its original position only when you are sure there are no pests left.
If the leaves of your prayer plant are wrinkled, this is the plant adapting to survive an environmental change that is causing it stress. The best way to fix a prayer plant’s wrinkled leaves is by correctly identifying the cause of the problem. The faster you are able to identify the problem, the easier and quicker it will be to fix it.
The most common causes of wrinkled prayer plant leaves are low humidity, excessive sunlight, temperature stress, overwatering, underwatering, poor water quality, the plant being rootbound, and pests.
Image: istockphoto.com / Ralf Liebhold