Everything you need to know about the Calathea Family
The Calathea belongs to a family of flowering plants called the Marantaceae (Arrow roots), typically found in the deep rainforests of Central and South America as well as the West Indies.
The Calathea is one of the many non toxic house plants available today, so no need to worry about the safety of your pets.
In this guide we will be talking about the Calathea plant and why you need to get one in your indoor jungle!
What does a Calathea plant look like?
Considering that there are over 100 varieties of this species, it’s quite difficult to come up with a single description. Even botanists struggle to tell Calathea plants apart because they just look very similar. But generally, you will notice that Calathea plants tend to have either egg-shaped, round or elliptical shaped leaves in different shades of green and purple, silver or pink.
All Calathea varieties have air-purifying properties – big plus for anyone right?
Where is the Calathea from?
The Calathea belongs to a family of flowering plants called the Marantaceae (Arrow roots), typically found in the deep rainforests of Central and South America as well as the West Indies. The native inhabitants use its large leaves to weave baskets or build shade to protect themselves from the scorching heat of the sun.
Is the Calathea the same as a Praying plant?
Yes, the praying plant is a nickname for this plant. This is because of the movement of the leaves at night and during the day. Calathea plants can adapt their leaves to the influence of light. So in the evening their leaves will fold inwards (bit like praying hands) and then open outwards in the morning.
It’s not all magic, the plants are able to move with the help of a joint that sits at the base of the leaves. Sometimes – if you are lucky, you can even hear the leaves moving as they rub against each other!
The Calathea is a high maintenance plant
Many plant growers will acknowledge that the Calathea can be fussy sometimes. If you make a mistake with this plant, it will immediately change its appearance.
This means that it will not always look as beautiful as it could on any given day. Other indoor house plants on the other hand, can be quite forgiving as they don’t drastically change their appearance when neglected. Because of this, I suggest that beginners should stay away from this plant until you have a little bit of more experience with plant care.
If you are thinking of using this plant for an interior design shoot, make sure you really pay attention to the plant at all times so that it looks pristine during the shoot.
How many types of Calathea are there?
There are quite a few types, each with different appearances like taller leaves, darker colour and some hybrids like the White fusion have been introduced to the eco-system.
So here is just a small overview of some of the most common types of Calathea plants:
Calathea Makoyana (Peacock Maroon)
The best known is probably the Calathea Makoyana (Peacock Maroon)with its beautifully drawn cream, red, silver and olive leaves, which are supposed to be reminiscent of peacock feathers.
Calathea Rufibarba (Wavestar Plant)
Up next is the Calathea Rufibarba, this plant is characterised by wavy leaves which is why it is also available in stores as a ‘Wavestar’ plant. The leaves bloom yellow, whilst the the stems and undersides of the leaves are coloured Red.
Calathea Lancifolia (Rattlesnake plant)
Also known as the Rattle Snake plant. This Calathea has elongated (30cm) leaves with a beautiful dark green pattern and a red underside. It does not form flowers when grown indoors.
Another popular type is the Calathea Jungle Velvet (Calathea Warscewiczii). This variety has beautiful velvety- leaves. It blooms white flowers in the summer.
Lighting requirements for Calathea Plants
- The Calathea plant prefers a bright and warm environment with partial shade (as a result of it’s tropical ancestry). But it can also cope with relatively little light! The more colourful the foliage, the more light is required.
- A location that is too dark can fade the beautiful drawings on the leaves and too much direct sunlight can damage the leaves, so you have to be really strategic with the location of your Calathea plant.
- In the tropics, the plants are used to high humidity and warm temperatures. Ensure that your home has a warm, humid room temperature of 20 – 25 ° C.
- Places near the window are to be avoided, especially in winter, because the indoor plants cannot tolerate drafts or cold air.
Humidity and Temperature
- Most Calathea plants love high levels of humidity between 20-25 degree celsuis – the tropical origin cannot be denied after all.
- A location in a closed window or in a warm and humid greenhouse is therefore particularly suitable. You can find some rare Calathea variety that can cope in dry room conditions, but that’s a bit of a needle in a haystack thing if you ask me.
- In winter, you cannot afford to let the temperature drop too much or else the plant will get frost damage (which can be fatal to the plant)
- Generally, Calathea plants prefer to be watered with lukewarm and distilled or rain water.
- Keep the soil evenly moist and make sure to prevent the root ball from drying out completely. The root of a Calathea plant will rot easily if overwatered, so make sure that you always empty out any excess water.
- Mist with filtered water when the air in the room is dry and dust its large leaves with a clean cloth everyday.
- Calathea plants like to have well-drained, humus-rich and moderately nutrient-rich soil. Any good houseplant soil should meet the requirements for this fussy plant.
- When checking the soil for moisture, stick a finger deep in the soil because the top layer can be misleadingly dry.
- You might argue that she isn’t much of a diva when it comes to soil preference.
Feeding the Calathea
- Generally, Calathea plants do not not need much fertiliser because it gets most of the nutrients from the soil.
- You should only feed your Calathea plant every 2-weeks during the growing season from April to September.
- For autumn and winter it can be left alone. No feeding required.
Pruning and Repotting
- Remove dead, wilted, and brown leaves with a sharp knife.
- Repotting should be done once every 2 years. It is best to repot the plant in spring- this is the period when the roots can best recover.
- The Calathea can also be repotted immediately after purchase. Just make sure that the new pot is at least 20% larger than the old pot so the roots can continue to grow.