Calathea Plant Care In The Home and Landscape

Calathea is a tropical plant also known as the Zebra Plant or Zebrina Plant (Calathea zebrina).

These plants are used mainly for their vibrant colorful leaf marking which include yellow, rose, white, and even olive.

several varieties show leaves of the calatheaPin

Many people get Calatheas and Marantas confused. Both Calathea and Maranta are members of the Marantaceae family. The plants are very similar in appearance and cared for in the same way.

The Maranta Leuconeura plant is the plant appropriately called the “Prayer Plant.” The nickname is often applied to Calathea because, like its cousin, this plant also raises and closes its leaves at night and opens them again in the daylight.

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This phenomenon is part of the circadian rhythm of the entire family of plants. This action is known as nyctinasty, and is caused by changes in water pressure in the nodes (pulvini) located at the leaf base. These movements help these forest-floor dwellers take the greatest advantage of every ray of light.

Calathea Plant Quick Growing Guide:

Family: Marantaceae
Origin: Africa and Tropical Americas

Common Names: Calathea Prayer Plant, Zebra Plant, Peacock Plant, Rattlesnake Plant, Rattle Shaker Plant

Uses: Houseplant, greenhouse specimen, terrarium plant, landscape plant in semi-tropical and tropical settings.

Height: 1’-6’ depending upon the variety

USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-11 depending upon the variety

Flowers: Small or nonexistent for most Calathea varieties

Foliage: Bold and flashy in a wide variety of colors and patterns

Calathea Plant Care Requirements: Moist, porous potting soil, high humidity, bright, indirect light, warm temperatures (60°-70° degrees Fahrenheit)

Miscellaneous: Not the “Prayer Plant.”

Calathea and Marantas

Though it is not correctly called “Prayer Plant”, Calathea has its own exotic, descriptive nicknames. Among them are:

It earns these monikers with its flashy, dramatic beautiful leaf colors, and in two instances, it’s very interesting inflorescences.

Flowering Calathea

Most types of Calathea flowers produce few (if any) flowers, and these flowers are quite small. Plants kept indoors almost never produce flowers. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule of thumb, though.

Calathea Crocata (aka Eternal Flame)

Flower of Calathea Crocata also known as the Eternal FlamePin

This plant grows to be about ten inches high with a spread of one foot. The leaves are about six inches long and one and a half inches wide. They are dark green with a purple underside.

Bright orange, torch-like flower bracts grow on two-inch spikes. Each clump produces several spikes, which die after blooming is complete; however, the dead spikes are quickly replaced by new ones.

These plants are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10-11, but they do well as greenhouse plants or houseplants. They need consistent warmth, light, humidity, and water.

Although these plants are costly, many gardeners feel the price is well worth the reward of large numbers of tall, bright orange flowers.

Calathea crotalifera (aka Rattle Snake Plant)

Blooms of the Calathea crotalifera (Rattle Snake Plant) Pin
In Hawaii, Calathea crotalifera (Rattle Snake Plant) – Image: wikimedia.org

This plant is popular both as a landscape plant and an indoor plant. The flowers of this plant look rather like a rattlesnake’s tail, so it is often referred to as the Rattle Shaker plant. [source]

This variety is widely used, and the flowers make interesting and long-lasting additions to floral arrangements. Rattle shaker inflorescences come in white, yellow, green and red.

You may also like Calathea relative: Stromanthe sanguinea Triostar

Calathea Foliage – Choose From A Dazzling Array Of Nature’s Art!

Aside from these two notably flowering varieties, Calathea’s flashy foliage is its calling card. The leaves are so striking they hardly look real. The leaves of Calathea warscewiczii are stunning!

They stand away from the center of the plant stiffly and change their positions ever so slightly from dawn to dusk as a way of making the most of available sunlight, warmth, and humidity.

Here are several of the best choices in non-flowering Calathea:

Calathea Rosea Picta Exquisite Beauty

calathea roseopictaPin

Calathea Roseopicta is also known as Painted Calathea, Rose Painted Prayer Plant. This species is famous for their colored foliage. The plant has large leaves elliptical in shape.

Each glossy leaf is prominently dark green in color with rose-colored midrib.

The plant’s leaf colors can add a sense of variety to any garden, landscape, or interior.

Calathea Burle Marxii (Stromanthe Amabilis)

Interesting leaves of the Burle Marxii Calathea aka the fishbone prayer plantPin

Ctenanthe Burle Marxii also known as Stromanthe amabilis and fishbone prayer plant.

Calathea Louisae

This is a compact plant that grows to about a foot high. Leaves are green with grayish/green feathering along the mid-rib. They grow well as a ground cover in tropical locations.

Calathea Concinna Potted

calathea concinaPin

Calathea concinna or Concinna Prayer Plant has a combination of light green and dark green leaves in a palm-like form. Also, check out the sport known as Calathea Freddie.

Calathea Lancifolia (aka Calathea Insignis)

This interesting plant sports narrow leaves of deep olive green with a yellow band around wavy edges. The leaves can be as long as one and a half feet.

Calathea Corona

calathea coronaPin

Corona has stunning patterned foliage, shiny leaves with generally olive green with dark green edges. Bright silvery gray highlights the center of each leaf.

Calathea Makoyana (aka Peacock Plant) is a Brazilian native.

Its leaves are olive green and cream speckled on top and splotchy pink on the underside. The topsides of the leaves are also marked with silver feathering along the veins. This appears as cream colored feathering on the underside.

All-in-all the plant’s appearance is quite flashy! It can attain a height of one or two feet and a width of about a foot. It is hardy in USDA zones 10-11.

Learn more about Peacock Plant care (Calathea Makoyana)

Calathea Orbifolia

Calathea orbifolia thrives in moist and humid climates. The leaves are shiny green with a white texture on both the top and shaped like the letter “O” giving it a unique look.

Calathea Majestica (aka Calathea Ornata)

Calathea ornata (pinstripe Calathea) is a sturdy plant and can grow to a height of six feet and a width of three feet. The leaves are deep green with a reddish/purple underside. They can grow to a length of two or three feet.

How To Care For A Calathea Plant

The care for a Calathea can be challenging and not usually recommended for inexperienced gardeners or those seeking easy low maintenance houseplants.

Consistency is the key to Calathea care. You must be prepared to provide consistent warmth, humidity, bright indirect light, and moisture.

Optimum Lighting

Calathea needs protection from both direct sunlight and excessive darkness. The best setting is one with good, bright, indirect sunlight.

These plants can do well in a north facing window. In other settings, be sure to shield the plant against the direct rays of the sun.

Place them in a bright room, but prefer not to be right next to the window. These plants can do well with fluorescent lighting or grow lights.

Consistent Moisture Is Ideal

To keep the soil moisture consistent, it’s a good idea to consider self-watering containers for Calathea and Maranta. Not only do they need consistent moisture but never become waterlogged.

Calathea is picky about the type of water used in watering. Calatheas do not like fluoride, chlorine, or bromine. This makes most city tap water a No-No.

If possible use reclaimed rainwater, well water, or distilled water on your plants.

Try to keep chemicals and salts out of the water and your Calatheas will do great.

If you hand-water, provide small drinks, with frequent watering throughout the growing season. As soon as the surface of the potting soil begins to dry, you should water. During cooler months, cut back on watering a bit.

For more read our article on Calathea Watering

Provide Consistent Humidity

High humidity will keep Calathea plants healthy and happy. In fact, lack of humidity is one of the main reasons for lack of success. Misting can help but is not enough on its own.

Plants requiring high humidity often do well in the kitchen or the bathroom since these rooms are naturally more humid than most rooms in the average house. [source]

For large plants, set up a pebble tray with water beneath your containers to provide consistent humidity. Small plants can be successfully kept in a terrarium or bottle garden.

Alternately, you may wish to use a cloche to help retain humidity. This is a glass, bell-shaped covering especially designed to be placed over a plant to maintain high humidity levels.

Remember that indoor humidity levels in winter are very low. This is especially true in homes with central heating.

Providing enough humidity during the winter months can be a real challenge in the average household. It is wise to use a humidifier for the health of your plants and yourself.

Give your Calathea higher humidity. Don’t let them dry out or you’ll see yellow leaves or brown leaf tips.

Fertilizing Calathea

During the growing season fertilize once every two weeks with a half-strength mixture of standard liquid houseplant fertilizer. Don’t fertilize at all during the winter months.

Maintain A Consistent Temperature

Calathea like warm temperatures with moderate ventilation. They do not like a lot of air movement or strong drafts. Temperatures should be between 60°-70° degrees Fahrenheit during the day and no lower than 50° at night.

How Often Should You Repot Calathea?

Healthy plants can be repotted annually or semi-annually during the spring and summer months. Be sure to repot using new potting soil. Repotting time is the perfect time to propagate plants by dividing them and replanting them.

This is a great way to get more plants to enjoy and share; however, keep in mind that your new young plants will not be as bushy and lush as your old plants.

Calathea grows fairly quickly, so young plants should fill out and look attractive in a short period of time.

How To Propagate Calathea

Division is the best and easiest way to grow more Calathea. You can divide plants in half or in several pieces depending on the size of the original plant.

Just plant each section into its own pot or container. Protect the divisions by keeping them is a warm, shady place. Keep them moist by covering them lightly with plastic.

When you see new growth starting, remove the plastic and begin treating the divisions as you would mature plants.

Calathea Plant Grooming

As with all plants, trim off straggly, damaged or diseased leaves on a regular basis. Dust the plant lightly from time-to-time, and provide more thorough leaf cleaning as needed.

Don’t use leaf shine products at all. To keep the leaves clean, just wipe them off with a damp paper towel or soft, damp cloth. Occasionally, give your plant a gentle shower with lukewarm water. Finish up by wiping the leaves dry with a soft cloth.

Are Calathea Plants Poisonous?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Calathea is non-toxic to cats, dogs, horses, and people. [source]

Related: Are Pray Plants Safe For Cats?

Calathea Plant Problems

As with all plants, when you provide optimum, consistent care you should not encounter too many problems. Most Calathea challenges are caused by too much or too little water or light and/or improper ventilation and temperature control. Here are several of the most common maladies.

What to do about poor growth and brown leaf edges:

If your plant is growing poorly and the leaves have a crispy brown edging, lack of humidity is usually the issue.

Remember these tropical plants need constant warmth and humidity to thrive. Without it, the leaves will just look raggedy. To treat this problem, trim the brown edges off carefully and improve warmth and humidity levels.

What to do about spotted curling leaves and lower yellow leaves:

When the leaves are spotty, curling and yellowed, it means you are not watering enough. Remember to keep the potting soil uniformly moist for the entire growing season. Repotting into a self-watering container can help tremendously with this problem.

What to do about droopy leaves and rotten, limp stems:

When there are signs of fungus and rotting, it may mean that you are watering too much. Again, a self-watering container can help with this.

It may also mean that your plant is too cold or experiencing too much air movement or cold drafts. Move your plant to a sheltered, warm setting away from drafts.

What to do about washed out, faded leaves:

Poor leaf coloration can occur because of improper lighting. Either too much or too little light will cause loss of color and pattern.

Most of the time, exposure to direct sunlight is the problem. Evaluate your lighting situation and make corrections so that your plant receives bright, indirect light and no direct sunlight.

What to do about gray mold (Botrytis):

Sometimes you can go overboard with the humidity levels. If you keep your plant in a very muggy atmosphere, the result can be a mold attack.

If you see spots of gray mold on your plants, trim back the affected area and provide some gentle ventilation.

Place a small fan set on low near your plants. Don’t put the breeze directly on them. Set up your fan so that it provides gentle circulation for the entire area.

Why Is My Calathea Sticky?

If you notice your Calathea has sticky leaves often under the leaves your plant may have plant scale insects. Learn more about this problem of Calathea sticky leaves and how to fix it.

Conclusion

Calathea is a very attractive plant native to Africa and the tropical areas of the Americas. Although on most varieties, the flowers are quite inconspicuous, the beautifully marked foliage in shades of green, pink and white more than make up for this.

These warmth and humidity loving plants can grow successfully outdoors in Florida and other tropical regions of the US.

Otherwise, they do very well as houseplants and greenhouse plants.

They also enjoy spending the late spring and summer months outdoors as long as they are not exposed to direct sunlight.

With the right combination of humidity, warmth, water and well-drained soil, you can enjoy great success with flashy Calathea.

The Calathea is one of over 35+ indoor plants for the home we’ve selected.

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