The Amazon rainforest is the biggest tropical rainforest in the world. With 2,300,000 square miles of forest from the Andes in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. Among the millions of species of birds, animals, insects, and plants is the beautiful Calathea plant.
Would you like to bring a little of the Amazon's exotic beauty into your home? Read on to learn why the Calathea makes the most beautiful decorative houseplant.
What Is a Calathea?
Calathea plants are striking houseplants grown for their beautiful foliage. There is a wide range of different varieties, each with distinctive leaf patterns. These patterns are generally bold and the undersides of the leaves can be quite different from the top surface.
The plants originate from the tropical rainforest. The plants grow as natives to the Amazonian rainforest in countries such as Brazil and Bolivia. Their natural environment is very humid and warm.
In the wild, they tend to grow at the base of the trees in the forest. Only a small amount of rain gets to the plant because it is so far below the canopy. The leaves are broad, capturing and holding water and directing it towards the centre of the plant.
The leaves are also large to capture the dappled light for photosynthesis. Some of the varieties also have a habit of drooping at night to follow the sun's movement. This leads to them sometimes being called prayer plants.
Why Are Calathea Plants so Popular?
Calathea plants are popular houseplants for several reasons. The light conditions found in most homes mean that direct sunlight is rare. This makes it difficult to grow most plants that need at least some direct sunlight.
Calathea have evolved to grow in rainforest conditions on the floor of the forest. This means they thrive out of direct sunlight. It's unusual to find such striking, rich coloured plants that love these conditions.
The range of varieties is also a factor. With different sizes, patterns and sizes to choose from, there's a Calathea for everyone.
Caring for Your Calathea
Calathea, do well in warm, moist conditions away from changes in temperature caused by drafts or cold air. Light shady areas and no direct sunlight are essential.
Plant them in well-draining potting compost and keep it slightly damp. A little less watering in winter is fine but don't let it dry out. Establish a routine of watering to avoid drying out.
Feed the plants regularly using a liquid houseplant fertilizer throughout the summer. Remove any old or withered leaves. No more pruning is needed unless the shape gets unbalanced.
Re-pot the plant annually or every two years. Give the plant some fresh potting compost. This an ideal opportunity to make more plants.
Divide the plant and pot any divisions in a fresh pot keeping them warm and humid. Cover the new plant with plastic and keep them away from bright light. Once you see some growth return the plant to the normal growing location.
There are a few problems that can arise with Calathea plants. These are easily resolved. The key is to keep an eye on the plants and pick up any problems early.
If leaves go brown, curl or go crispy the problem is probably underwatering or low humidity. If the leaves yellow, go mushy or fall apart the cause is overwatering. Treat any infestations of spider mites or mealybugs with proprietary sprays.
Choose Your Calathea Carefully
When choosing your Calathea plant, take some care to get the right plant for you. You should consider the place you wish to put the plant. Does the plant fit the space you have in mind?
Think about the conditions you will be creating for the plant. Different Calathea houseplant varieties have different needs for light and humidity. If you are unsure about how much care you will be able to bestow on the plant choose a more robust variety.
So, for example, if you have plenty of space and it's in a bright location, Calathea Zebrina is ideal for you. If you are looking for a show-stopping smaller plant and are prepared to take special care of it, Calathea Makoyana is right for you.
Doing a little research on the Calathea varieties, their habits and needs is a good idea. This will save money and disappointment as well as result in lovely, healthy plants.
This dramatically striped plant is also known as the Zebra plant. It can grow to an impressive one metre high. The dark green stripes on a pale green background are very attractive.
The leaves are velvety and the undersides are purple. The large leaves can be up to 40cm long. Keep this sensitive plant warm and moist especially during the summer.
They like bright conditions but hate direct sunlight so choose its location carefully. A little extra care is needed but the rewards are fabulous.
Calathea Lancifolia is also known as the Rattlesnake plant. This is a plant with a striking leaf pattern. The leaves have strong dark green markings on a pale background growing to about 75cm tall.
There are undulating edges that add to the interest of the markings. They have slender leaves with a distinctive lance-like shape, hence the name. Under the leaves the colour is purple.
It's only when the plant produces its light-coloured flowers that you can see why its common name references the rattlesnake. They look like the famous "Rattler's" tail. They rarely flower indoors but with the right climate and conditions, they do flower from late spring to early summer.
Calathea Lancifolia is among the easier Calatheas to grow with a preference for medium to bright but indirect light. Just keep the soil moist during the summer but not sopping wet. A little less watering in winter is best but do occasionally mist the plant if it's dry.
Calathea Orbifolia's large rounded leaves have stripes of light green suggestive of a peacock's tail. It is sometimes known as the Peacock plant but be careful not to confuse it with the Calathea Makoyana, also known as the Peacock plant, which has much stronger green feathery stripes. The undersides of the Calathea Orbofolia's leaves are pale green.
A native of the Bolivian rainforest, this plant needs some special care. Keep the soil moist and reduce watering in the winter but don't let it dry out. Rainforest-like humidity is essential so mist it regularly.
Protect the plant from direct sunlight. Simulate the rainforest with plenty, bright indirect light.
Calathea Makoyana is also known as the Peacock plant because its leaves look like a peacock's tail. Its leaf pattern is more striking than it's Bolivian cousin, Calathea Orbifolia even though it's sometimes also described as the Peacock plant.
Calathea Makoyana comes from the eastern side of Brazil and is used to a tropical climate with plenty of light and humidity. This makes it a little more of a challenge to care for.
If you care for it well you are rewarded with broad leaves with dark green stripes over a pale green background that is reminiscent of a peacock's tail. A glimpse of the underside of the leaf reveals a striking dark pink. The plant will grow to about 60cm tall, making a dramatic statement on its own or with other plants.
Keep the soil moist at all times and avoid direct sunlight. Medium or even low lighting levels are best.
Calathea Misto is rather less common than other Calathea varieties but it's hard to see why. It is a very attractive dark green plant with a light variegation down the centre of each leaf. The underside of the leaves is a striking purple colour.
Keep it watered regularly over the summer keeping the soil moist. A little less watering in the winter is advisable but don't let the soil get too dry. A little misting will be rewarded with healthy growth.
Medium or even bright sunlight is fine but avoid direct sunlight.
The Joy of Calatheas
Once you have one Calathea houseplant, you may find that you want another. Combining plants in a small group or create a tropical feature such as a terrarium in your home. Select plants that need the same environment and then play one leaf pattern off against another.
The rich greens, bold patterns, and occasional flashes of the underside of leaves make for a beautiful display. Combine this with their contribution to creating a more humid, less drying atmosphere. This means they help with your wellbeing too.
Learn more about caring for your houseplants by clicking here.