Foliage, General Houseplant Care

Calathea Care: Calathea Types You Should Be Growing


A mix of calatheas

Calathea plants, which hail from tropical rainforests, are fun indoor plants to care for. These tropical plants don’t need direct sunlight, making it easy to help a plant thrive in low light. Their lovely leaves are sure to provide your home with joyful pops of color. 

With so many calathea species out there – 60 total – there’s definitely one suited to you. Proper care of varieties of calathea isn’t hard either. All you need is a watchful eye, a container with decent drainage holes, the right potting media, and a good watering schedule. 

If you wonder whether or not to grow calathea plants, read this piece! We’ll cover several of the most popular calathea varieties, and discuss calathea care. All this will give you the tools you need to have a thriving plant. 

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Quick Care Guide

Common NamePrayer plant, peacock plant, rattlesnake plant, zebra plant, peacock plant, cathedral plant, and others
Scientific NameCalathea species (60 total)
FamilyMarantaceae
Height & SpreadUp to 3 feet tall, and 2 feet wide 
LightBright, indirect light
SoilRich, loamy, well-draining soil
WaterKeep soil consistently moist
Pests & DiseasesSpider mites, aphids, mealybugs, scale insects, fungus gnats, root knot nematodes, burrowing nematodes, caterpillars, slugs, pseudomonas leaf spot, psuedomonas blight, alternaria leaf spot, helminthosporium leaf spot, fusarium, root rot, cucumber mosaic virus

Calathea Types: Tropical Plants with Style

Let’s look at different calathea plants, identify the botanical name and characteristics of each, and discuss their common names. Whether it’s prayer plants, cathedral plants, or even peacock plants you’re interested in, we’ve got you covered. 

Calathea lancifolia, ‘Rattlesnake Plant’

Calathea lancifolia
Calathea lancifolia. Source: Anita363

Rattlesnake plants are tropical evergreens that can be grown outdoors in parts of California, Florida, and Hawaii, but otherwise they are common indoor houseplants. They require 60° Fahrenheit or warmer. The rattlesnake calathea pattern looks very similar to that of a specific type of rattlesnake, hence the name. The upper part of the leaf is a nice midrange green, with darker edges and oval spots. Underneath is maroon or reddish-purple. While indoors, rattlesnake plant typically grows to a foot and a half. Outdoor plants can grow up to an extra foot. 

Calathea lutea, ‘Cigar Calathea’, ‘Cuban Cigar’, ‘Pampano’, ‘Maxan’

Calathea lutea
Calathea lutea. Source: Tony Rodd

Used to wrap tamales in Guatemala, calathea lutea has long and paddle-shaped leaves. This plant grows much larger than the average calathea at 6 to 10 feet outdoors. Indoors, it’s smaller, but its leaves are huge, sometimes reaching a meter in length. A natural waxy substance forms on the underside of the leaf to protect them against heat. This makes them perfect as container plants. The cigar reference is to its flowers, which are waxy reddish-brown or brown bracts that look like cigars. Tiny yellow flowers appear between these bracts.

Calathea makoyana, ‘Peacock Plant’, ‘Cathedral Windows’

The peacock plant is named so because of its peacock tail-like patterned leaves. This plant has pink or red-tinted stems. Atop those are cream-colored leaves with forest green ovals that are like the eyes on a peacock’s tail or windows in a cathedral. Underneath the leaves, the patterning is mirrored, except that deep green is replaced with pinkish to purplish tones. This plant is particularly sensitive to humidity levels, and prefers a wet climate. It can be grown indoors under the right conditions. Calathea makoyana has earned the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Calathea orbifolia, ‘Round Leaf Plant’

Calathea orbifolia
Calathea orbifolia. Source: Operating System

With rounded oval leaves instead of spear-shaped ones, calathea orbifolia is a striking variety. It has wider stripes than the pin stripe calathea, and diverges from other calatheas in its size. Mature calathea orbifolia plants have leaves between 15 inches and 35 inches wide, and grow to several feet tall outdoors. Indoors calathea orbifolia leaves are smaller, but still get wider leaves than others. A good comparison in terms of leaf width of calathea orbifolia is the hosta plant.

Calathea ornata, ‘Striped Calathea’, ‘Pin Stripe Calathea’, ‘Pin-Striped Calathea’

Calathea ornata
Calathea ornata. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Prayer plants of the calathea ornata species have lush, deep green foliage that forms a base for what looks like feathery stripes of lighter green, white, ivory, or pink. Punctuated by the slender stem, it is highly attractive! The underside of the leaves has a distinct purplish hue which is similar to that of a rattlesnake plant. As the plant gets older, even the pink-striped varieties fade to a creamy white striping that’s still appealing.

Calathea picturata, ‘Silver Variegated Calathea’

Calathea picturata
Calathea picturata. Source: techieoldfox

This attractive plant’s markings suggest multiple leaves stacked atop one another. On most picturata plants, the leaf is a silvery-green hue, edged in a wide band of dark green. Some cultivars have an additional layer of green forming a third leaf-shape in the center of the oval, pointy leaf. The underside of the leaves mirror this patterning in deep purple and bright pink.

Calathea roseopicta, ‘Rose-Painted Calathea’, ‘Calathea Dottie’

Calathea roseopicta
Calathea roseopicta. Source: Starr

There are several cultivars of the rose-painted calathea, probably due to its interesting pattern. Bands of color radiate from the purple or pinkish leafstem in varying shades of light or darker green. As the leaves mature, lighter tones turn white, where the green remains deep and vivid. This calathea  produces small white or purplish flowers during the summer. 

Calathea veitchiana, ‘Calathea Medallion’, ‘Cathedral Plants’

The leaves of this calathea are purple, paired up with standard light and dark green hues. Burgundy or purple banding is a large part of this difficult-to-find calathea’s look, and it’s gorgeous. It is considered near-threatened in its homeland of Ecuador, and therefore is hard to find at the local garden center. If you do, it’s worth growing just for the color! Its white flowers are purple-flecked and pretty, but they don’t last for long.

Calathea zebrina, ‘Zebra Plants’

Calathea zebrina
Calathea zebrina. Source: Ahmad Fuad Morad

The zebra plant is one of the most popular calathea plants on the market. It’s named for the striping of its leaves. Green patches on a light, silvery-green leaf are both distinctive and beautiful. This shouldn’t be confused with other zebra plants, Aphelandra squarrosa. Calathea zebrina does share a common name with it, but doesn’t have the yellow flowers of the Aphelandra variety.

Calathea rufibarba, ‘Furry Feather’ Calathea

The green leaves of this calathea plant are elongated with edges that look crinkled. Their undersides are soft and felt-like, which is why it’s also commonly known as velvet calathea or Calathea ‘Wavestar’.  Wavestar grows up to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. If you’re looking for a plant that has leaves that resemble a peace lily, but doesn’t come with all the drama, this furry feather plant is for you.  

Calathea lietzei, ‘Calathea White Fusion’

Alongside calathea makoyana, this plant is also commonly known as the peacock plant. Both of its common names refer to the stunning white and green variegation on the leaves. It grows slower than other calathea plants, but adds a striking display to any place. The lilting leaves of this plant are difficult to find in nurseries, but worth taking home if you do. They grow compactly, up to 2 feet tall and wide, but tend more toward a height of 6 inches. The white to red, supple blooms of White Fusion are worth the wait too!  

Calathea concinna, ‘Calathea Freddie’, ‘Freddie Prayer Plant’

Among prayer plants in the genus calathea, this one is particularly interesting. It’s leaves have stark silvery-green stripes interlayed with darker green stripes and deeply hued border. Indoors, this plant grows to 2 feet tall, and reaches 3 feet outdoors. If you want to grow calathea that looks much like a zebra plant, this one won’t disappoint. The plant’s flowers are white, and pop up between stems in the right conditions. 

Calathea setosa, ‘Never Never Plant’, ‘Compact Star Plant’

The sparse stems of this plant gently separate revealing large, lush leaves. Mature leaves are rich green with grey-white stripes that surround the leaf veins. This plant is perfect for those who want to grow calathea that’s taller than most, because it reaches anywhere from 3 to 7 feet tall on average. This variety grows faster than those we’ve covered thus far.

Calathea vittata

Of all the calathea varieties with the common name, Prayer Plant, vittata is stark among them, with light green elliptical leaves that have sleek white stripes. These leaves are dense, and clump together creating a lush flush of foliage. This medium-sized calathea reaches 18 inches tall and wide. These are slow growers, but are often found in big box stores.

Calathea Care

Now that we have discussed a few of the 60 types of prayer plants, zebra plants, or rattlesnake plants, Calathea orbifolia, and Calathea lutea, let’s talk calathea plant care tips. Because all of their natural habitat regions are tropical climates, they have similar needs. That means, no matter which kind you have, the skills to grow one are the same. 

Light and Temperature

Zone 10 to 11 is ideal for outdoor calathea plants, but most don’t perform optimally in too much light, or direct sun. A lot of bright, indirect light or medium light is essential for their growth, with at least 8 hours of indirect light needed per day. With the exception of older calathea lutea plants, most will wilt or get brown edges on their leaves if they get too much direct sunlight. Low light is fine, but slows their growth. Most enter dormancy at temperatures below 65°F, and some  fail below 60° in lower light (calathea orbifolia is one of these). 75° or warmer is optimal. In colder zones, grow calthea indoors at 70 to 75°, provided they receive enough indirect lighting. Because the prayer plant prefers a humid environment, keep indoor plants out of drafty locations and away from vents as they are extremely sensitive to sudden temperature shifts.

Water

Showing underside of leaves
The undersides of the leaves have a purplish color. Source: M.P.N.texan

The calathea plant loves a humid environment, and is sensitive to water quality. Even the common calathea orbifolia likes pure water, but anything that is otherwise altered (like tap water) may cause leaf tips to turn brown. When watering calatheas, use room-temperature filtered or distilled water. If you don’t have distilled on hand, fill a container with water and let it sit open for 24 hours before use. Ensure the soil is evenly moist, but not soggy. Excess water causes distress to the plant. Avoid wetting the leaves, and only water if the soil feels dry to the touch in the top inch or two. For indoor plants, place a tray filled with pebbles and water beneath the plant to create enough humidity. 

Soil

Two things are essential in regards to calathea soil: it must be kept moist, but not wet, and it needs to be well-draining. African violet potting soil works surprisingly well for calathea, especially calathea orbifolia. Some prefer a blend of 2 parts peat moss or coco coir, 2 parts perlite, and 1 part potting soil or fine compost. Do not mulch, as this creates conditions that damage the root system. If you’re using an especially well-draining mix, water when the top 1 to 2 inches of soil is dry. Additions of worm castings help retain moisture in the soil, along with small amounts of organic matter. A good drainage hole in a calathea container is essential no matter the soil. 

Fertilizer

Calatheas don’t require much fertilization, even in the growing season which lasts from early spring, through early summer, ending in the fall. Use a half-teaspoon of kelp fertilizer diluted in a liter of distilled water once a month, replacing your regular watering with a small dose of this solution. Spread this liter out over some time. Yellowing leaves or drooping and wilting are signs you’ve fertilized too much. These may be signs of other problems including under-fertilizing, so be cautious. Spring, summer, and fall fertilizing is all that most require. If your plant regularly yellows after monthly fertilizing, reduce the frequency.

Propagation and Repotting of Prayer Plants

Unlike other plants in the Marantaceae family, calathea propagation isn’t reliable from cuttings of a mother plant. Similarly, most species will not flower indoors and produce seed, so propagation by seed isn’t always possible. Instead propagate via division during repotting. Rather than expand the place, why not create new plants? Dampen some of your calathea potting mix. Place a small amount in the bottom of each pot that you intend to use. Carefully remove your calathea from its existing pot, and dust away excess soil. Once you’ve bared the roots, look closely at the joints where the roots attach to the stems. Gently part small stem-and-root segments with a few leaves. Repot each new plant in your pots at the same depth as before. Top them off with more soil. Use this same procedure, sans division to repot your entire plant.

Pruning Calathea Plants

Calathea veitchiana showing new leaf growth
Calathea veitchiana showing new leaf growth. Source: CabbageRoseCat

Pruning is an aesthetic measure with calatheas. Older leaves may turn yellow or get brown edges with age. Trim these using a clean and sterile pair of pruning shears, right above the soil’s surface. Avoid trimming central leaves. Brown tips on leaves are common. Most gardeners trim off the brown edge, leaving the rest of the leaf as good as new. Trim off entire dead flower stalks once they’ve faded to encourage your plant to put its energy into new growth.

Calathea Problems

A mix of calatheas
A mix of calatheas. Source: wallygrom

Now that we’ve discussed calathea care, let’s talk about calathea obstacles. These tropical plants aren’t as sensitive as others, but do sometimes have issues that you need to know about. Here are a few of the top growing problems, pests, and diseases related to calathea.

Growing Problems

Calathea leaves fold and reopen daily. However, curled or rolled leaves are usually caused by a lack of humidity around the plant. Increase the humidity level to 50% or greater by placing it on a pebble tray, or by adding a humidifier nearby. Squeeze a spray or two of distilled water mist (not tap water) daily onto the leaves, but not enough to cause water droplets to build up. Wilting, yellowing plants can signify overwatering, or under and over fertilizing. Keep track of when you water and fertilize to determine how to adjust. A big pot can make soil stay too wet, and can cause root rot, which we’ll discuss in more detail in the Diseases section.

Pests

Insect damaged calathea picturata
Insect damage to calathea picturata. Source: Reinaldo Aguilar

The most common pest is spider mites, which are insects that congregate and weave webs around the leaves. You can treat these with neem oil, but you may prefer the scent of indoors mite-specific insecticidal soap. Aphids are another congregating insect with a pear-shaped body, also easily controlled by either of the two above treatments, although neem oil is a bit more effective. Mealybugs and other scale insects appear on your calathea as either white cottony masses, or greasy-looking brown bumps on stems and leaves. These can also be controlled via the two treatments mentioned above. Use an alcohol-soaked q-tip to pop them off the plant into soapy water, then spray with either.

Fungus gnats are little bugs which are more of an annoyance than anything else, but the larvae can eat your plant’s roots. Because they feed below the soil, add beneficial nematodes to protect the plant’s root system. These take out root knot nematodes or burrowing nematodes that might attack. Some caterpillars eat calathea leaves. Laid by a variety of moths or butterflies, these larvae are easily wiped out with Bt spray. Finally, if your plants are outdoors, you may find slugs eating leaves, creating holes in the process. Slug bait or beer traps will kill them off.

Diseases

Closeup of a calathea zebrina leaf
A closeup of a calathea zebrina leaf. Source: El Chepi

Psuedomonas leaf spot, and blight cause either water-soaked spots on your plant’s leaves, or water-soaked areas along leaf veins. A copper fungicide removes leaf spot (including alternaria leaf spot and helminthosporium leaf spot), but no treatment has been identified for psuedomonas blight. To prevent spread to other plants, remove and destroy infected plants and their soil.

Fusarium wilt is a fungal disease that causes yellowing and wilting of leaves, as the stem veining turns brown. Drench treatments of copper fungicide may slow disease spread. The only way to eliminate it entirely is to dispose of the infected soil. Thoroughly wash all soil off of the plant roots. Sterilize your pot with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. Then replant it in sterile soil, and do treatments of copper fungicide once per week for the next month to be sure the disease hasn’t spread. If your plant’s in overly-wet conditions for too long, it can suffer from root rot. In this case, don’t water calathea plants for a while, and remove rotted parts to see if things improve. If they don’t, dispose of the plant and soil. 

Calatheas are carriers for cucumber mosaic virus, which can be deadly to other plants. Jagged yellow patterns alternate through your plant’s leaves. Unfortunately, mosaic viruses have no cure. If you have other susceptible plants, it can spread to them. The only option is to destroy infected plants and their soil, and sterilize their pots.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you care for Calatheas?
A: The second half of this piece is all about this. Check it out!

Q: Is Calathea good for indoors?
A: Yes! It’s great for improving air quality. 

Q: Do Calatheas need a lot of sun?
A: They need a lot of bright, but indirect light.

Q: Is Calatheas hard to care for?
A: No! Slightly fussy, but not hard at all. 

Q: How do I keep Calathea happy?
A: See the Care section. 

Q: Where should I place my calathea?
A: Offset from a sunny window, in indirect sunlight. 

Q: Is Calathea good for bedroom?
A: Indeed! It will improve the quality of the air in the room. 

Q: Does Calathea clean the air?
A: It does. It absorbs and filters numerous common household toxins. 

Q: How often should I water my calathea?
A: When the top 1 to 2 inches are dry. 

Q: What does an overwatered calathea look like?
A: The leaves may yellow and wilt when the plant is overwatered. 

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