Scientific Name: Calathea (Goeppertia) sp.
Synonyms: Prayer Plant
The Calathea genus, now known as Goeppertia, is a tropical houseplant grown exclusively for its wonderful foliage - the leaves and plants come in an assortment of shapes and sizes, with each one having beautiful velvety textured or patterned foliage.
Dark purple under foliage of many of the species adds additional charm to this eye-catching houseplant, especially when it adjusts its foliage kinetically throughout the day as it responds to heat, light, humidity, and other factors. As a result of this fascinating and distinctive movement, the plant has earned the nickname Prayer Plant, as its leaves often fold up at night into the position of prayer.
The Calathea Sanderiana cultivar is highly regarded for its deep purple immature form delicately lined with pale pink. Among others that catch the eye are Calathea Makoyana with attractive stained glass mottling, or the Calathea Network with its striking mosaic pattern in the light. The Calathea Zebrina has velvety textured lime-black striped patterning, a variant of Calathea Freddy, which is a smaller leaved variant with the addition of white patterning. Possibly the most loved of all is Calathea Orbifolia, with its large round orbic patterned leaves - an icon within every house plant collection.
Calathea are native to Central and South America, where they grow on the warm, humid jungle floor. Translate these conditions to the urban setting, and their environmental preferences become apparent: They like warm temperatures with high humidity, medium light and preferably moist, non waterlogged soil.
You can use Calatheas (Goeppertia) to create excellent contrast in your home décor, especially if they are surrounded by deep green foliage, which allows them to "pop". As they have patterned foliage from all angles, they work best as a tabletop or eye-level shelf plant.
A warm, humid bathroom or kitchen is especially appealing to them since the naturally high humidity keeps them looking fresh. The best part is, they come in a range of sizes, some large enough to make a glorious floor-level display, while others remain small and compact, making them ideal for those with spatially tight places.
This genus is also suitable for outdoor growing, specifically in warmer, humid provinces such as Kwa-Zulu Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. Given the ample rootspace, and the optimal conditions, these plants can grow into veritable bushes of shrubbery. Some species, such as Calathea Beauty Star, Calathea Leopardina, Calathea Rufibarba and the Calathea Insignis, will get especially large. However, be mindful that when grown outdoors, these plants will have some blemishes.
Please note: Calatheas are considered non-toxic.
Calathea Plant Common Symptoms
These are some of the common symptoms that Calatheas encounter and ways to address them:
- Crispy Brown Leaf Edges are a sign of low humidity. Cut off the brown bits and increase humidity by either spritzing regularly, relocating to a more humid location or placing them on a pebble tray (a tray filled with pebbles and some water).
- Curling, Spotted Leaves and Lower Yellow Leaves are a result of under watering. Remember to keep the soil moist at all times, "like a wrung out sponge". The only time the plant will forgive you for under watering is during the cooler winter months.
- Limp or Rotting Stems or Drooping Leaves could be caused by overwatering, although more likely by cold temperatures or exposure to drafts. If the plant remains in these conditions the damage will not be reversible, so make sure to move the plant to a warmer spot or away from the cold draft immediately. Read more on Overwatering vs Underwatering here.
- Leaf Pattern Fading: There are two reasons for this problem: too much light, or not enough. In most cases leaf fading is due to exposure to direct sunlight. Find a shadier spot for your plant.
- Botrytis (Grey mould) may occur if the surrounding air is extremely muggy – but seeing as the Calathea loves high humidity this problem may not ever occur. Grey mould is caused by airborne fungi that land on damaged or dying tissue. Soft rotting patches may appear that are soon covered in grey fungus. Remove the infected parts of the plant and improve ventilation in the area. If the issue persists, treat it with a fungicide such as Copper Soap.
- Pests: As Calathea love warm humid conditions, they can be prone to Mealybug. If your plant is affected by Mealybug, we recommend relocating to a slightly less humid position or adding extra ventilation to their living space. Whilst if kept too dry or in dry air, they can be highly susceptible to Spider Mite. If this is the case, we recommend raising the humidity around your plant. Ultimately, once an infestation has been detected rinse as many pests off the leaves and treat with a Neem Based Oil until the infestation has subsided. Read for more on Common Household Pests.
Calathea Care Instructions
- Origin: South and Central America
- Height: Varied – up to 60cm
- Light: Grow Calathea in medium to low light. Shield from direct light to prevent sunburn. Moderate, dappled light is also fine.
- Water: Keep soil moist at all times – especially during the growing season - but ensure that it is not ‘wet’ or sitting in water (empty out the drip tray). During the winter months, the plant will accept a little less water. Read up more on Houseplant Watering.
- Humidity: Maintaining a high level of humidity is important in keeping your Calathea healthy and attractive. Increase humidity by regularly misting the leaves with a Spray bottle or placing them on a Pebble tray.
- Temperature: Temperatures of 15 – 21°C will result in plants that are healthy and vigorous. Reasonable ventilation is fine but keep the Calathea out of strong draughts.
- Soil: Well drained, but rich potting mix. Remember to stay away from wet soil or dry, sandy soil.
- Fertilizer: Feed monthly during the growing season with a half strength organic houseplant Fertilizer. Don’t feed in winter.
- Repotting: If the plant is growing well, aim to repot it every year or every second year during the spring or summer months. Repot it into fresh potting soil.
- Propagation: By division. Large Calatheas can be quite easily propagated at repotting time. Divide the plant by half (or smaller if you have a very large plant) and pot each new section into its own pot. Keep the new divisions shady, warm and moist by covering the pots with plastic, similar to a greenhouse. Once you see new growth, remove the plastic and grow as normal.
If in stock, shop for Calathea Plants here.