How to Care and Propagate The Superb Calathea

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Numerous leaves of the Calthea or Zebra or Rattlesnake plant

With its striking and vibrant leaves, the Calathea (Calathea zebrina, aka Zebra plant or Rattlesnake plant) is a favourite for landscape gardens and as an indoor plant – mostly in northern climate zones. Come discover wonderful Calathea varieties, its care including lighting, watering, fertilizing and propagation.

These plants are used mainly for their vibrant colorful leaves which include yellow, rose, white, and even olive. Calathea raises and closes its leaves at night and opens them again in the daylight. This phenomenon is part of the circadian rhythm of the entire family of plants. This action is known as nyctinasty, and is caused by changes in water pressure in the nodes (pulvini) located at the leaf base. These movements help these forest-floor dwellers take the greatest advantage of every ray of light.

Video – Calathea, Zebra, Rattlesnake Plant Care

Calathea Plant Quick Growing Guide:

Family: Marantaceae
Origin: Africa and Tropical Americas
Common Names: Prayer Plant, Zebra Plant, Peacock Plant, Rattlesnake Plant, Rattle Shaker Plant
Uses: Houseplant, greenhouse specimen, terrarium plant, landscape plant in semi-tropical and tropical settings.
Height: 1’-6’ depending upon the variety
USDA Hardiness Zones: 8-11 depending upon the variety
Flowers: Small or nonexistent for most varieties
Foliage: Bold and flashy in a wide variety of colors and patterns
Calathea Plant Care Requirements: Moist, porous soil, high humidity, bright, indirect light, warm temperatures (60-70 degrees Fahrenheit)

Though it is not correctly called “Prayer Plant”, Calathea has its own exotic, descriptive nicknames. Among them are:

  • Zebra Plant
  • Peacock Plant
  • Rattlesnake Plant
  • Rattle Shaker Plant

It earns these monikers with its flashy, dramatic markings, and in two instances, its very interesting inflorescences.

Flowering Calathea

Most types of Calathea produce few (if any) flowers, and these flowers are quite small. Plants kept indoors almost never produce flowers. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule of thumb, though.

Calathea Crocata (aka Eternal Flame)

Flower of Calathea Crocata also known as the Eternal Flame

This plant grows to be about ten inches high with a spread of one foot. The leaves are about six inches long and one and a half inches wide. They are dark green with a purple underside. Bright orange, torch-like flower bracts grow on two-inch spikes. Each clump produces several spikes, which die after blooming is complete; however, the dead spikes are quickly replaced by new ones.

These plants are hardy in USDA hardiness zones 10-11, but they do well as greenhouse plants or houseplants. They need consistent warmth, light, humidity, and water.

Although these plants are costly, many gardeners feel the price is well worth the reward of large numbers of tall, bright orange flowers.

Blooms of the Calathea crotalifera (Rattle Snake Plant)

In Hawaii, Calathea crotalifera (Rattle Snake Plant) – Image:

This plant is popular both as a landscape plant and an indoor plant. The flowers of this plant look rather like a rattlesnake’s tail, so it is often referred to as the Rattle Shaker plant. [source]

This variety is widely used, and the flowers make interesting and long-lasting additions to floral arrangements. Rattleshake plant inflorescences come in white, yellow, green and red.

Calathea Foliage – Choose From A Dazzling Array Of Nature’s Art!

Aside from these two notably flowering varieties, Calathea’s flashy foliage is its calling card. The leaves are so striking they hardly look real. They stand away from the center of the plant stiffly and change their positions ever so slightly from dawn to dusk as a way of making the most of available sunlight, warmth, and humidity.
Here are several of the best choices in non-flowering Calathea:

Calathea Rosea Picta Exquisite Beauty

Calathea Roseo Picta is also known as Painted Calathea, Rose Painted Prayer Plant. This species is famous for their colored foliage. The plant has large leaves elliptical in shape. Each glossy leaf is prominently dark green in color with rose-colored midrib.

In between the margin and midrib is an irregular feathered rosy-colored ring. The underside of the leaf is purple in color with short reddish-brown petioles holding each leaf. In addition to the beautiful foliage, Calathea Roseo Picta plants also produce white and purple flowers. The flowers are so small that they are considered to be less significant compared to the plant foliage.

The beautiful Calathea Roseo Picta is used by interior scapers and makes an attractive pooted container plant. It can be used indoors and outdoors. When grown outdoors, landscapers make use of it as a ground cover or en masse for mix planters and mix borders. The plant’s leaf colors can add a sense of variety to any garden, landscape, or interior.

Calathea Louisae

This is a compact plant that grows to about a foot high. Leaves are green with grayish/green feathering along the mid-rib. These grow well as a ground cover in a tropical setting. These plants are hardy in USDA zones 8-11 and can be grown in the non-tropical southern US, but may die back during the winter months.

Calathea Concinna Potted

Calathea concinna or Concinna Prayer Plant has a combination of light green and dark green leaves in a palm-like form.

In a year, Calathea concinna blooms white flower repeatedly. An attractive plant to birds, bees and butterflies.
This plant is an excellent groundcover and for indoor use that requires constant water and never let the soil dry out between waterings.

Calathea Lancifolia (aka Calathea Insignis)

This interesting plant sports narrow leaves of deep olive green with a yellow band around wavy edges. The leaves can be as long as one and a half feet. The plant has a spread of two feet. Flowers are inconsequential or non-existent. This plant is hardy in USDA zones 9-11.

Calathea Corona

If you love foliage plants but cannot afford collector’s plants, Calathea Corona may answer to your needs.
Corona is grown its stunning patterned foliage. The shiny leaves are generally olive green in color with dark green edges. Bright silvery gray highlights the center of each leaf. Each round leaf is generally broad in size and taper to a point. Young or new leaves are usually curled and as they emerge they show off their purplish red undersides.

Like other “prayer plants” the leaves fold at night appearing like hands clasped in prayer. Calathea Corona does well as a potted specimen plant. Because of its dense foliage, it has this mysterious effect as it conceals its stems when put indoors to accentuate any spot it occupies.

Calathea Makoyana (aka Peacock Plant) is a Brazilian native.

Its leaves are olive green and cream speckled on top and splotchy pink on the underside. The topsides of the leaves are also marked with silver feathering along the veins. This appears as cream colored feathering on the underside. All-in-all the plant’s appearance is quite flashy! It can attain a height of one or two feet and a width of about a foot. It is hardy in USDA zones 10-11. [source]

Calathea Rotunifolia

One of the beautiful plants you can find in nurseries and garden centers during the spring and early summer is Calathea rotundifolia.

The calathea name came from the Greek word kalathos which means basket; while rotundifolia means rounded leaf. From the name of the plant itself, you will easily know that calathea rotundifolia is a stocky plant with large and round leaves.

Each leathery-textured leaf is veined with light green and generally shows alternating bronze-green bands.
Calathea rotundifolia is usually grown for its foliage. Because of its short or stocky form, rotundifolia makes a suitable indoor plant as well as a container plant. Outdoors, rotundifolia should be grown under semi-shade or indirect sunlight.

Calathea Majestica (aka Calathea Ornata)

This sturdy plant can grow to a height of six feet and a width of three feet. The leaves are deep green with a reddish/purple underside. They can grow to a length of two or three feet. The growth process is interesting in that the leaves start out with pink striping between the veins, which transitions to white striping. This plant is hardy in USDA zones TS 10-11.

Calathea Zebrina (aka Zebra Plant)

Zebrina can attain a height of 1-3 feet and a width of one or two feet. The leaves are velvety green and have alternating bars of olive green and pale yellow radiating from the mid-rib on the topside. The undersides of the leaves are reddish/purple. This plant is hardy in USDA zones TS 10-11.
Calathea Plants Varieties and Identification | How to Grow and Care Calathea [embedded content]

How To Care For Calathea

The Calathea, or or Zebra plant or Rattlesnake plant care, can be challenging and not usually recommended for inexperienced gardeners or those seeking low maintenance house plants. Consistency is the key to Calathea care. You must be prepared to provide consistent warmth, humidity, bright indirect light, and moisture.

Optimum Calathea Lighting

Calathea needs protection from both direct sunlight and excessive darkness. The best setting is one with good, bright, indirect sunlight. These plants can do well in a north facing window. In other settings, be sure to shield the plant against the direct rays of the sun. Place them in a bright room, but not right next to the window could do well. These plants can do well with fluorescent lighting or grow lights.

Watering Your Calathea: Consistent Moisture Is Ideal

To keep the soil moisture consistent, it’s a good idea to consider self-watering containers for Calathea and Maranta. Not only do they need consistent moisture but never become waterlogged. If you hand-water, provide small drinks, frequently throughout the growing season. As soon as the surface of the soil begins to dry, you should water. During cooler months, cut back on watering a bit.

Provide Consistent Humidity

High humidity will keep Calathea plants healthy and happy. In fact, lack of humidity is one of the main reasons for lack of success. Misting can help but is not enough on its own. Plants requiring high humidity often do well in the kitchen or the bathroom since these rooms are naturally more humid than most rooms in the average house.

For large plants, set up a pebble tray with water beneath your containers to provide consistent humidity. Small plants can be successfully kept in a terrarium or bottle garden.

Alternately, you may wish to use a cloche to help retain humidity. This is a glass, bell-shaped covering especially designed to be placed over a plant to maintain high humidity levels.

Remember that indoor humidity levels in winter are very low. This is especially true in homes with central heating.
Providing enough humidity during the winter months can be a real challenge in the average household. It is wise to use a humidifier for the health of your plants and yourself.

Fertilizing Calathea

During the growing season fertilize once every two weeks with a half-strength mixture of standard liquid houseplant fertilizer. Don’t fertilize at all during the winter months.

Maintain A Consistent Temperature

Calathea like warm temperatures with moderate ventilation. They do not like a lot of air movement or strong drafts. Temperatures should be between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and no lower than 50 at night.

How Often Should You Repot Calathea?

Healthy plants can be repotted annually or semi-annually during the spring and summer months. Be sure to repot using new potting soil. Repotting time is the perfect time to propagate plants by dividing them and replanting them.

This is a great way to get more plants to enjoy and share; however, keep in mind that your new young plants will not be as bushy and lush as your old plants. Calathea grows fairly quickly, so young plants should fill out and look attractive in a short period of time.

Calathea Propagation

Division is the best and easiest way to propagate Calathea. You can divide plants in half or in several pieces depending on the size of the original plant. Plant each section into its own pot or container. Protect the divisions by keeping them is a warm, shady place. Keep them moist by covering them lightly with plastic. When you see that your Calathea propagation is being successful with the start of new growth, remove the plastic and begin treating the divisions as you would mature plants.

Calathea Plant Grooming

As with all plants, trim off straggly, damaged or diseased leaves on a regular basis. Dust the plant lightly from time-to-time, and provide more thorough leaf cleaning as needed. Don’t use leaf shine products at all. To keep the leaves clean, just wipe them off with a damp paper towel or soft, damp cloth. Occasionally, give your plant a gentle shower with lukewarm water. Finish up by wiping the leaves dry with a soft cloth.

Are Calathea Plants Poisonous?

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Calathea is non-toxic to cats, dogs, horses, and people. [source]

Calathea Plant Problems

As with all plants, when you provide optimum, consistent care you should not encounter too many problems. Most Calathea challenges are caused by too much or too little water or light and/or improper ventilation and temperature control. Here are five of the most common maladies.

What to do about poor growth and brown leaf edges:

If your plant is growing poorly and the leaves have a crispy brown edging, lack of humidity is usually the issue.
Remember these tropical plants need constant warmth and humidity to thrive. Without it, the leaves will just look raggedy. To treat this problem, trim the brown edges off carefully and improve warmth and humidity levels.

What to do about spotted curling leaves and lower yellow leaves:

When the leaves are spotty, curling and yellowed, it means you are not watering enough. Remember to keep the soil uniformly moist for the entire growing season. Repotting into a self-watering container can help tremendously with this problem.

What to do about droopy leaves and rotten, limp stems:

When there are signs of fungus and rotting, it may mean that you are watering too much. Again, a self-watering container can help with this.
It may also mean that your plant is too cold or experiencing too much air movement or cold drafts. Move your plant to a sheltered, warm setting away from drafts.

What to do about washed out, faded leaves:

Poor leaf coloration can occur because of improper lighting. Either too much or too little light will cause loss of color and pattern. Most of the time, exposure to direct sunlight is the problem. Evaluate your lighting situation and make corrections so that your plant receives bright, indirect light and no direct sunlight.

What to do about gray mold (Botrytis):
Sometimes you can go overboard with the humidity levels. If you keep your plant in a very muggy atmosphere, the result can be a mold attack. If you see spots of gray mold on your plants, trim back the affected area and provide some gentle ventilation. Place a small fan set on low near your plants. Don’t put the breeze directly on them. Set up your fan so that it provides gentle circulation for the entire area.

Recognised Species and Hybrids

Below is a list of 57 “accepted” Calathea species and hybrids recognized by The World Checklist of Selected Plant Families at Kew. Kew list over 460 total accepted and non-accepted names of Calathea. To see all the species, go to Kew Here and search for ‘Calathea’


Calathea is a very attractive plant native to Africa and the tropical areas of the Americas. Although on most varieties, the flowers are quite inconspicuous, the beautifully marked foliage in shades of green, pink and white more than make up for this. These warmth and humidity loving plants can grow successfully outdoors in Florida and other tropical regions of the US.

Otherwise, they do very well as houseplants and greenhouse plants. They also enjoy spending the late spring and summer months outdoors as long as they are not exposed to direct sunlight. With the right combination of humidity, warmth, water and well-drained soil, you can enjoy great success with flashy Calathea.

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