May 5, 2022

Prayer plant. Latin name, Maranta leuconeura—a name that, if you’re familiar with the Bible, looks suspiciously like “maranatha”: the Aramaic exhortation at the end of I Corinthians that’s typically translated as “Come, Lord.” I’ve named mine Sybill, after the professor of divination in Harry Potter. When I first read, some years ago, that millennials were becoming known for collecting houseplants—a way to tend to those nurturing instincts we were neglecting by not having children—I scoffed. I now have nine houseplants, and I’ve told my brother, if I hit a dozen, he should probably call someone. The other day, I Googled “prayer plant yellow leaves,” after a few of Sybill’s leaves had, obviously, turned yellow. One of the “people also ask” questions Google generated was “why isn’t my prayer plant praying?” The prayer plant gets its name because its leaves fold up at night—an act that someone somewhere decided looked like praying hands. My plant’s leaves move, but I have yet to understand how they look like praying hands, at least not the pious picture of palms pressed together in a steeple. They’re more sprawling, haphazard, which is often how I look when I’m praying and nearly always how I’m feeling. “Why isn’t my prayer plant praying?” The answer is the answer to every question one asks Google about houseplant problems: too much light, or too little, too much water, or too little. Perhaps millennials don’t have children because we’re inclined to Google everything, and these are the kinds of answers Google gives us. One of the more recent additions to my houseplant menagerie is a succulent (also named after a character in Harry Potter), which was a sea-creature purple when I bought it, and now, two weeks later, is bright green. Google: why did my succulent change colors? Answer: succulents turn green when properly cared for and only display their otherworldly colors when neglected. Solution: don’t water it as much—meaning, find that delicate balance between smothering it and killing it, which, come to think of it, is what parenting is all about.

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