Foliage, Houseplants

Calathea Orbifolia: Round-Leaved Prayer Plants


Calathea orbifolia

Houseplants are a great way to bring a piece of nature into your home, and Calathea orbifolia will surely stand out form your collection! When grown indoors, this calathea will stay rather small, although its leaves can grow to be pretty wide. The white and green stripes are mesmerizing and will quickly become your favorite house plant!

Calathea orbifolia can be a bit tricky to care for at first as you try to find just the right spot for it in your home. It needs indirect light and a lot of humidity, but don’t let those roots stay wet for too long, or your plant will soon suffer from root rot! But, once you find the sweet spot in the balancing act, you’ll find that caring for it isn’t much different from other calatheas.

You can grow this plant outdoors if you live in a suitable climate. Perfect conditions will allow it to grow to huge sizes, but that will be hard to achieve unless you live somewhere tropical. This tropical plant is best grown as an indoor plant in the United States, so let’s take a look at how to care for it so you can add it to your collection.

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Quick Care Guide

Calathea orbifolia
The round-leaved prayer plant, Calathea orbifolia, is beautiful. Source: Dan Jones
Common NameRound-leaf calathea, peacock plant
Scientific NameCalathea orbifolia
FamilyMarantaceae (prayer plant family)
Height & Spread3 feet (1 meter) tall
LightBright indirect light
SoilWell-draining potting mix
WaterKeep soil moist with distilled water
Pests & DiseasesAphids, mealybugs, thrips, whiteflies, leaf spot, powdery mildew, root rot, white soil mold

All About Calathea Orbifolia

Calatheas are tropical plants from the Marantaceae family or the prayer plant family. Calathea plants get the “prayer plant” nickname because they close their leaves up at night as if in prayer, and they open up again in the morning. 

Calathea orbifolia is one of the many members of this family and it’ll demand your attention with its beauty and care requirements. Calathea orbifolia, or the peacock plant, is from Brazil. Its leaves can reach up to a whopping 3 feet wide in its native climate, but you’ll usually find them to be much smaller—usually under 1 foot—when grown indoors. Still, its green and silvery-white stripes are gorgeous to look at. When kept indoors, it’s a slow grower, so you probably won’t see it get much bigger than when you bought it unless you keep it for several years.

Like most tropical plants that are kept indoors, you probably won’t see this one flower. However, it does have a pretty white flower it can grow in the right conditions. If you can mimic humid Brazil in your home or greenhouse, you just might get lucky!

Calathea Orbifolia Care

Calathea orbifolia in an outdoor tropical garden
Warm, tropical climates enable one to grow C. orbifolia outdoors. Source: Starr

As you read through our calathea orbifolia care guide, know that there’s a learning curve at the beginning, especially if you’re new to growing tropical plants. Stay diligent and you’ll get used to its requirements and can join other plant enthusiasts who rave over their young plants!

Sun and Temperature

A key part of caring for house plants is remembering the conditions of their native climate. Calathea orbifolia is a short plant that grows in the jungles of Brazil. That means it doesn’t get much direct sunlight on the forest floor because towering trees cover it.

This calathea needs medium indirect light to be happy. Too much direct sunlight will burn the leaves and stress the plant out. It can even tolerate lower lighting conditions, but make sure it’s not in a dark room as it still needs enough light.

To calathea orbifolia, temperature is just as important as sunlight. For optimal calathea orbifolia care, aim for 75°F (23.8°C) and don’t go below 70°F. Ideal USDA hardiness zones are 10-11 which are warm or hot for most of the year, so the room you keep this plant in will need to mimic those warm temperatures.

A good way to keep the temperature around your plant steady is to keep it away from doors, windows, and vents. It won’t fare well if the air conditioner or heater blows dry air right on it, and if there are cold drafts by a door or the temperature changes when you open the window, that will stress it out. Avoid sudden temperature changes.

Water and Humidity

Moisture is usually the most difficult part of keeping a Calathea orbifolia plant happy. Too little or too much will leave your plant stressed, and that’ll leave you stressed, too! 

The soil should be moist, but not wet. When you stick your finger into the soil, it should feel damp, but there shouldn’t be water puddling up around your finger. It will need regular watering to keep the soil moist, but you can let the top 1-2 inches of soil dry out before watering again to prevent overwatering. Excess water should be able to drain out the bottom of the pot easily.

The type of water you use matters, too. Never use tap water because the peacock plant is sensitive to chemicals such as fluoride that’s often found in tap water. Distilled or filtered water will be the best option for your calathea. Filtered tap water will work, too, if you have a filter you can use at home.

When it comes to humidity, it needs to be humid. 50% or more humidity, to be precise, as calatheas love high humidity! If your home does not currently have high humidity, you’ll need to make it that way. A bright bathroom will work well since the steam from hot showers will keep humidity levels pretty high. A humidifier near your plant will work wonders, too. The high humidity from your humidifier does not need to spray directly on the leaves, but it should be near the plant so the plant will have easy access to the moisture. 

Placing the pot on a pebble tray with water will work, too. Use about an inch of pebbles and fill the tray with half or three-fourths an inch of water and refill when it gets low. This creates a pocket of high humidity right around the calathea plant.

Soil

Use soil that can retain water while draining out excess. Remember, the soil needs to stay moist, but not wet, and well-draining soil is just the way to do this. 

Look for potting soil that contains perlite and peat moss for the best results. Perlite will improve the aeration and will keep the soil loose, allowing for water to flow through. Peat moss will retain moisture to keep the soil damp without overdoing it. Fertile potting soil will allow your plant to have the nutrition it needs.

Speaking of nutrition, calatheas aren’t too picky about nutrient content, but they’ll always appreciate fertile soil with compost. Try to keep the pH level around 6.5 since they like it neutral.

If you want to keep it simple, many calatheas are happy in potting soil designed for African violets, so the Calathea orbifolia will enjoy it, too. 

Fertilizing

Calathea orbifolia will benefit from fertilizer, although it’s not necessary for the plant to stay healthy. Nitrogen will help its leaves stay shiny and green, so giving it a few boosts throughout the growing season will help it stay beautiful.

Liquid fertilizer will be best for your calathea. Dilute it to ¼ strength since it’s a slow-growing plant. The fertilizer should have an NPK of 3-1-2 or similar; as long as the emphasis is on the nitrogen, you should be fine.

Apply fertilizer every two or three months or as the fertilizer label suggests while the weather is warm. The plant will go dormant in cooler temperatures, so there’s no need to fertilize in the winter months. Avoid giving it too much fertilizer, as this can cause damage to your calathea orbifolia plant.

If you don’t want to worry about using the right amount of fertilizer, opt for a fresh layer of compost every one or two months. Mix the compost with potting soil to keep it aerated and your plant well-draining.

Pruning

Pruning isn’t necessary, but it will help keep your plant looking spiffy as the old leaves die. The old leaves will be on the outside of the plant since new growth forms in the middle. You can trim old leaves with sharp, sterile scissors or shears by cutting them at the base.

If you notice discolored or dying leaves toward the middle of the plant, or you suspect that the outer leaves might be too new to be considered “old,” then your plant might be trying to tell you that something is wrong! Try to identify any problems before you cut leaves. We’ll get into potential problems in just a bit.

Propagation

Rhizome division is the most reliable way to propagate Calathea orbifolia. Since flowers are hard to come by, seeds aren’t really an option, and cuttings don’t always survive.

Calathea orbifolia will probably develop new sprouts, or “pups,” in the spring. You can easily remove these from the mother plant through rhizome division. Divide the rhizomes and roots with sterile and sharp shears to separate the baby clump from the mature clump. Plant the pup in similar soil as the mother plant.

Repotting

Calathea orbifolia is a slow grower, but you should still plan on re-potting it every two years or so. You’ll need to repot sooner if you look into the container and see bare roots with very little soil.

These calatheas benefit from slightly confined spaces, so the new pot only needs to be 1 or 2 inches bigger in diameter than the current pot. Keeping the pot on the small side will prevent the plant from having too much water. The more soil in a container, the more water it can hold. While Calathea orbifolia needs water, it doesn’t need soggy soil, so a smaller pot will prevent that.

When you propagate your calathea, choose a small pot that’s just an inch bigger than the root ball. You can size it up as the plant grows. You may need to repot your mature plants into fresh soil every few years as the orbifolia plant will eventually break down any chunky bark or aeration additives in its mix.

Troubleshooting

Underside of C orbifolia leaf
The underside of C. orbifolia leaves can be purplish-red in color. Source: Starr

Since the Calathea orbifolia can be tricky to grow, it’s no surprise that there will be problems! Let’s take a look at some of the problems you might encounter and what you can do to correct them.

Growing Problems

If you see Calathea orbifolia leaves curling, it’s probably due to insufficient humidity. A humidifier, tray with pebbles and water, or a sunny bathroom should be enough to correct the problem. Always keep the humidity level at 50% or higher.

If you have yellowing leaves on your plant, this is usually a sign that it doesn’t have enough water or fertilizer. Feeling the soil will be a good indicator that it doesn’t have enough water. If it’s dry beyond the top 2 inches of soil, increase how often you water it, and keep track on a calendar if you’re prone to forgetting to water. If you water frequently but don’t fertilize often, then fertilizer is probably the problem! Add some 3-1-2 liquid fertilizer or compost to correct the problem. If you’ve watered -and- fertilized recently, you

Pale calathea orbifolia leaves can also be a sign of not enough fertilizer. Nitrogen gives the plants their beautiful shine and deep colors. A nitrogen boost will give it its spark back.

Pests

Unfortunately, indoor plants aren’t exempt from pests. If you find pests on your Calathea orbifolia, you should first figure out where they’re coming from! They may have jumped from another plant, were on the calathea when you bought it, or found another way into your home.

Aphids, whiteflies, thrips, and mealybugs are all common houseplant foes that suck up the sap from plants. Aphids are small and green, brown, yellow, and even red. Whiteflies are tiny but will fly when disturbed, so they’re easy to find. Mealybugs are bigger and white, so those are easy to identify, too. Thrips are longer and slender than the other three critters mentioned.

The easiest way to slow these down is to spray them off with water. However, since the plant is in a pot in your home, this can be messy and doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll leave—they may just fall into the soil. You can take a damp cloth and wipe down the leaves as part of your calathea orbifolia care regimen, and that may help.

If water doesn’t prove to be effective, use neem oil. Spray it as a fine mist on the plant, being sure to cover both the tops and bottoms of leaves, and it will kill the bugs. Apply as per manufacturer’s directions. Insecticidal soap is also another good option.

Diseases

White soil mold is a common fungus when soil holds too much moisture. The best way to correct this is to remove the plant from the infected soil, wash away all the soil from the roots, and repot it in a new pot with fresh, clean soil that will drain well. This mold usually forms on the top layer, so if you catch it early enough, you may be able to scoop the top layer off. A treatment of ⅓ hydrogen peroxide mixed with ⅔ water can be applied to the soil to reduce this fungus, although you’ll need to let the soil completely dry before application.

Powdery mildew is another fungus that will make leaves look powdery and often shows up in humid conditions. Prevent fungal maladies like this by treating the plant occasionally with neem oil. Severely-damaged leaves should be pruned off, but follow up with an immediate treatment of the plant to prevent any further spread.

Leaf spot will appear as brown spots on the leaves. The most common varieties that impact calathea orbifolia are anthracnose or septoria leaf spot. A copper fungicide can be used to treat various types of leaf spot, but the most damaged leaves should be pruned and thrown away.

Root rot occurs when roots have too much water and not enough oxygen. These soggy conditions promote the growth of fungi that will cause the roots to decay. Heavy soil or a lack of drainage holes can cause this, even if you’re not overwatering. You’ll see yellow leaves with brown tips, and the roots will be soft and black. Remove the plant from the soil, wash away all soil from the root ball, trim away damaged roots, and replant the plant in suitable soil. Then, remove affected, yellowed, or drooping leaves. You may be able to save your plant if you got to it soon enough.

Frequently Asked Questions

Calathea orbifolia as a houseplant
As a houseplant, Calathea orbifolia can thrive. Source: Dan Jones

Q: Are Calathea orbifolia hard to care for?

A: They can be difficult for beginners or if you’re not used to humidity-loving tropical plants. Once you learn how to care for them, it won’t seem so bad!

Q: Does Calathea orbifolia need sunlight?

A: Calathea orbifolia needs bright indirect sunlight. Direct light may burn their leaves and stress the plant.

Q: How often should you water Calathea orbifolia?

A: The soil should stay moist, so you should water Calathea orbifolia when the top 1 or 2 inches of soil are dry. It will be more frequent in the summer when temperatures are warmer.

Q: Is Calathea orbifolia fast growing?

A: Calathea orbifolia can be grown outdoors in its native climate, but it’s usually a slow grower when it’s inside. Its growing season is during warm weather, so making sure that you have warm enough conditions will ensure your calathea orbifolia thrives. Avoid cold temperatures or hot, direct sun on this tropical beauty.

Q: Is Calathea orbifolia toxic to dogs?

A: Calathea orbifolia isn’t known to be toxic to dogs or cats, so you can feel good about having this plant in your pet-friendly home!

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