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Care Guide: Calathea


Often known as the most beautiful family of houseplants, Calatheas can be just as fussy as they are stunning. What's with the browning tips? Why are the leaves curling?

This post is your ultimate guide to caring for your Calathea plants. I’ll cover the most popular varieties you’re likely to find, and provide detailed information on their light, water, humidity, temperature, and fertiliser needs. So let’s get into it!




Today we're diving deep into the world of Calathea care. These stunning plants are not only beautiful but come in numerous varieties. Did you know that the term "prayer plant" might not always be correct when referring to a Calathea? And here's a fun fact: they LOVE rainwater so make sure to pop it outside in the next downpour. Let's explore all this and more!


Is a Calathea Plant also Prayer Plant?

Calathea belongs to the Marantaceae family and is closely related to the Maranta genus, which includes the Maranta leuconeura, commonly known as the prayer plant. While some Calathea varieties are often called prayer plants, technically, a prayer plant refers to Maranta leuconeura. However, due to their similar behaviors and appearances, it’s understandable if the names are used interchangeably. 


So why “Prayer Plant”? This family is called so due to its unique behaviour of raising its leaves from an outward position into an upright position in the evening, resembling hands folded in prayer. This daily movement is a response to the light conditions and is part of the plant's natural circadian rhythm so don’t be alarmed if you see your plant changing positions - or even hear it’s leaves scrape against the walls!

Here are some additional details about this interesting behaviour:

  • Nyctinasty: This term describes the nightly movement of the leaves. It's a mechanism that helps the plant optimise its exposure to light during the day and reduce water loss at night.

  • Mechanism: The movement is controlled by specialised cells at the base of the leaflets called pulvinus. These cells change size by altering their water pressure, causing the leaves to rise or fall.

  • Light Sensitivity: Prayer Plants are sensitive to the light cycles, opening its leaves flat during the day to maximise light absorption for photosynthesis and folding them up at night.


Below is a Maranta Leuconeura on the left, and a Calathea Peakcock on the right. Similar! But different.




Origin

Calatheas originate from tropical climates and because they are completely non-toxic, there are many ways they are used throughout the world. In Brazil, their beautiful leaves have practical uses, such as wrapping fish, and in Colombia and Thailand, used for making rice containers. These plants, native to South America, have become really popular houseplants thanks to their intricate leaf markings and ability to thrive indoors.


Most Common Varieties

There are so many varieties, so let’s deep dive into some of the most popular:


Calathea Lancifolia (Rattlesnake Plant)

The rattlesnake plant, with its striking markings resembling a rattlesnake, is a hardy variety that grows about 50cm tall. Its long, lean leaves have wavy edges and display a mix of yellow, green, and purple tones.



Calathea Roseopicta (Rose Painted Calathea)

This stunning plant features vivid pink coloured leaves with markings of black, either around the edges or throughout.





Calathea Veitchiana (Calathea Medallion or Dottie)

Vibrant, glossy oval leaves with green and purple markings on top and bold purple undersides.



Calathea Orbifolia

My personal favourite - known for its large green leaves with light stripes that take on a silver hue, this variety can grow over 1m both tall and wide.



Calathea Makoyana (Peacock Plant)

Resembling a peacock’s showy feathers, this variety has beautiful light greenish-yellow markings on vivid green leaves with purple backs. It grows around a foot tall and can develop white flowers when grown outdoors.



Calathea Ornata (Pin-Stripe Plant)

This plant has dark green leaves with light-colored pink or white ‘pin’ stripes and deep purple bottoms. The lines look almost hand-drawn, differing in size and thickness.



Calathea Warscewiczii (Velvet Calathea or Velvet Jungle Plant)

Another one of my favourites - featuring rich green leaves with a velvety texture and deep purple undersides. Watch the spidermites on this plant - the micro pests love weaving their webs in the velvet crevices! More on this later.



Calathea Zebrina (Zebra Plant)

This houseplant has thick stripes on its light and dark green leaves with deep purple bottoms. They can be a little picky when it comes to water and light conditions due to their delicate leaf texture.



Calathea Musaica (Network Plant)

The most striking Calathea (in my opinion!) because of the intricate network of green and yellowish mosaic-like patterns on each leaf. This gives the plant its distinctive "Network" appearance. Fun fact: every leaf network is completely different, just like a fingerprint!





This is not an exhaustive list! There. are plenty more Calathea varieties to discover!



Light

Calathea plants, native to tropical rainforest floors, thrive in as-bright-as-possible indirect light. Next to a window or outside under the shade of a tree or undercover of a balcony or patio roof is ideal. Just watch if it's right next to a window that midday direct sun doesn't move to burn the leaves!

This is one of the most common mis-conceptions I hear all the time about Calatheas. To be clear: All Calathea need very very bright light. They will not survive happily well in medium or low light so make sure you keep them in a spot that gets good natural light, and even a touch of sun in the early morning or late afternoon.






Water

Calathea plants prefer to be kept moist but never wet for extended periods of time. The aim is to keep the soil feeling a little bit damp but not overly soggy, and definitely not bone dry to long periods either.

So how do you keep them moist? Before you go to water them, pop your finger into the soil to test. If it feels wet or moist, leave it be. When the top inch of soil feels a little dry, it’s time for a drink. If you notice your plant’s leaves starting to dry, curl, and turn brown at the edges, you may be letting the soil dry out for too long between watering.

Did you know? Calathea are incredibly fussy when it comes to quality of water. Tap water can have chemicals like fluoride or chlorine which our rainforest-dwelling Calathea will not respond well to. Filtered water is much kinder but rainwater is the best. Always put your plant out in a rain-shower!



Humidity & Temperature

These plants thrive in warm temperatures and do not tolerate cold or dryness well. Maintain high humidity levels by using a humidifier, misting the plants, or placing a saucer with rocks and water underneath. Browning edges of leaves can also be a sign of dry air / no humidity.





Pests to watch for

Due to the velvet or textured leaves, Calatheas are more prone to Spidermites than other plants. Also, Mealybugs like to hide out in the crispy folds of the stems so check the base of your plant regularly.

Check and treat with a good quality pest-spray - if you notice multiple leaves yellowing, chances are you have an infestation. Our Mineral Oil is fantastic for eradicating an infestation, plus is doubles as a leaf shine to keep your plants clean and looking amazing.





Toxicity

Calathea are completely non-toxic! Woohoo!


Soil

Repot only when the plant tells you (ie roots coming out from the bottom) using fresh, well-draining soil, possibly with added perlite to encourage aeration.

Only slightly increasing the pot size each time. Don’t go too big too fast or your plant will spend all its energy on growing roots rather than pretty leaves.




Fertiliser and Propagation

Regularly trim dead or yellowed growth to keep your plant healthy. If you want to propagate, this can be done by dividing the plant during repotting in the spring. Separate the roots and repot the divided plants, caring for them as usual until new growth appears. Fertilise monthly during the growing season (Spring & Summer) with a good liquid fertiliser - such as our Plant Coffee! Simply add a few drops in your watering can when you water - your plants will thank you for it!





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Want to know more?

Keen to learn more about your houseplants? Come along to our next Indoor Plants 101 workshop for a crash course in everything you need to know about keeping your plants happy and healthy.


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