Calathea Plant: How To Grow and Care

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Calatheas are indoor plants exclusively grown for their foliage. With their luscious leaves adorned with varying intricate patterns, these plants made their way from the forests of South America to our lovely homes.

What is Calathea?

Calatheas are ornamental plants from the family Maranthaceae. The name, Calathea, came from the Greek word ‘kalathos’ which means ‘basket’, pertaining to the plants’ inflorescence (1). 

Like most members of the Maranthaceae family, Clatheas are native to South America where they grow naturally inside tropical forests. The leaves are used by the native inhabitants to make baskets, another reason for the plant’s name (2). 

Calatheas are sometimes also called ‘prayer plants’, referring to the opening and closing of the leaves due to changes in its environment. However, prayer plant may sometimes refer to another plant species from the same family.

Calathea leaves are famous for their striking colors and elaborate patterns that almost look like they are painted on. The design varies from species to species. The underside of the leaves also varies in color from bright green to deep burgundy.

Indoor Calatheas are mostly grown for their foliage but some species, like the Eternal Flame, are preferred for their beautiful inflorescences of bright orange yellow color.

How Do You Care for Calatheas?

Calatheas are not the hardiest of indoor plants. They are often finicky when it comes to its environment, but with proper care and maintenance, they can be kept healthy and vibrant.

Do Calatheas Need Sunlight?

Calatheas love the shade which is why they are preferred as indoor or greenhouse plants. They can tolerate early morning or late afternoon light. 

Place them in areas in the house where they can get plenty of indirect light. When using calatheas for the outside garden, they should be kept in shaded areas with lots of filtered light (3).

What is the Optimum Temperature and Relative Humidity for Calatheas?

Since calatheas originated in South America, they tend to favor average to warm temperatures and high humidity. When growing indoors, make sure to keep temperatures at about 70-85° F (21-20° C) and humidity high (15%).

How Much Water Do Calatheas Need?

In their natural environment, calatheas thrive in shaded forest floors where the soil is seldom dry. They do not thrive well in drought conditions and would exhibit browning and curling (2). 

Calatheas are sensitive to salt and fluoride in water (3) so make sure to spray them with rainwater or boiled tap water cooled to room temperature (2). Keep their soil moist at all times and don’t be afraid to let them enjoy the occasional drizzle outside the house.

How Do I Pot Calatheas?

Calatheas grow in slightly acidic soil so make sure to plant them in well-draining soil mixed with peat and perlite (4). Fertilize them every 3 weeks with high nitrogen foliar fertilizer in spring through summer and monthly through fall and winter (3).

What Are the Best Types of Indoor Calathea?

Calathea is a large genus with many cultivars and every one of them is unique with their own beautiful, bold designs. Here, we will look at some varieties of Calathea that will make a nice addition to your indoor collection.

1. Peacock (C. makoyana)

Otherwise known as Cathedral Windows, Peacock calathea is one of the popular Calathea species for both outdoor and indoor landscaping. The leaves are stunningly patterned with shades of green, white, pink, and silver on the top surface, resembling a peacock’s tail feather. The underside is equally beautiful, with contrasting green and deep purple patterns (5).

Peacock calatheas originated from Southern Brazil. They are not the most robust and would grow best in shaded areas with high humidity and slightly acidic soil (5).

Peacock calatheas are perfect as potted indoor plants, border plants, groundcover, or as an accent in the garden.

2. Zebra (C. zebrina)

Zebra plants can be distinguished from other calathea species by its ovat, light green leaves that are silky, patterned with dark green stripes coming from the midrib like a zebra. 

The leaves are silky to the touch and grow horizontally from long stalks, concealing its undersides that are colored a rich reddish-purple (2).

3. Pinstripe (C. oranata)

Calathea ornata, also known as Pinstripe calathea, is a group of various plants with line markings on their leaves. This calathea originated from Western-SouthAmerica, particularly in Colombia (6). 

They feature luscious leaves that are green with stripe markings on top and purple on the underside. They grow up to 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide, making them perfect as container plants.

4. Rattlesnake (C. lancifolia)

One of the common species of Calatheas, C. lancifolia or Rattlesnake plant originated from Brazil. The species name is derived from its lance-shaped leaves. 

The top surface is light green with dark green patches, alternating in size, like a reptile skin. The underside is a rich burgundy color (2). They grow in clumps with leaves growing vertically atop long pedicels.

Rattlesnake plants can grow up to 2 feet in height and 1 foot in width. As with most calatheas, they love shady areas with high humidity and are perfect indoors (7). 

5. Medallion Calathea (C. veitchiana

Out of all calathea species, none can take the place of Medallion in its value for ornamental use. Endemic to Ecuador, these bold plants feature large, green, oval leaves, marked with a dark green crescent shape pattern on opposite sides of the midrib and along the margin. The underside of each leaf is colored a deep purple.

C. veitchiana is considered a near-threatened species in its home country of Ecuador and can rarely be found in local garden centers (8). 

6. Rose Stain Calatheas/Rosy (C. roseopicta)

Out of all the many calathea species, the Rose Stain calatheas have the most number of  cultivars. This plant has been awarded with the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. 

With its beautiful large, rounded leaves patterned with varying shades of green, white, silver, and pink, it is one of the most sought-after indoor plants. Some of cultivars worth considering for indoor collection are as follows:

var. Dottie

This variety features leaves with a dark green, almost black center and margins. A thin band of bright pink circles the center of the leaf and runs along its midrib. The underside of the leaves is a bright pink color too.

var. Princess Jessie

This was discovered as a mutation in a tissue culture of unpatented C. roseopicta plants in the Netherlands. This variety looks very similar to Dottie but the leaves are black and the pink bands are wider.

var. Tanja

This variety looks the closest to the parent plant except its leaves are colored differently. The foliage is gray-green with dark green margins and dark purple underside.

Other calathea varieties and species worth considering include:

  • Fusion White (C. leitzei ‘Fusion white’)
  • Freddie (C. concinna ‘Freddie’)
  • Network (C. musaica)
  • Misto (C. ‘Misto’)
  • Saturn (C. picta ‘Saturn’)
  • Eternal Flame (C. crocata)
  • Calathea orbifolia
  • Calathea ornata
  • Calathea medallion


Reference List 

(1) Gledhill D. “The Names of Plants”. Cambridge University Press. 2008. pp. 84. 

(2) Vermeulen N. “Encyclopedia of House Plants”. Reho Productions Ltd. 1999. pp. 45-49.

(3) Pleasant B. “The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual: Essential Gardening Know-how for Keeping (Not Killing!) More Than 160 Indoor Plants”. Storey Publishing. 2012. pp. 164.

(4) MacCubbin T., Tasker F. “Florida Gardener’s Guide”. Cool Springs Press. 2002. pp. 129.

(5) Gilman E. F. “Calathea makoyana Peacock Plant”. University of Florida IFAS Extension. 1999.

(6) ”Calathea ornata”. International Plant Names Index.

(7) N. N. “Gardener’s Guide to Tropical Plants: Cool Ways to Add Hot Colors, Bold Foliage, and Striking Textures”. 2012. Cool Springs Press. pp. 140.

(8) Muriel, P., Pitman, N. “Calathea veitchiana. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T45650A11009785”. 2004.


*Photo by J_Koneva/depositphotos

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