This post shares all about calathea plant care, including the most popular varieties of calathea plants you’re likely to find at your local nursery; what light, water, humidity, temperature, and fertilizer needs the plants have; and how to propagate calathea plants.
Calathea Care: How to Care for Different Calathea Varieties
Buckle up for a long post today, folks, because we’re talking all about calathea care. Calatheas are stunning plants that you probably are already familiar with. But did you know how many varieties there are? And did you know that calling it a “prayer plant” might not be entirely correct? How about that it doesn’t need to take up a coveted spot by your sunniest window? Sharing all that and more…NOW!
Calathea Plant vs. Prayer Plant
Calathea is a stunning genus of plants, many now popular as houseplants, that is part of the Marantaceae family. The calathea genus is a cousin to the Maranta genus, which contains the Maranta leuconeura, otherwise known as the prayer plant. That’s why you’ll often hear some varieties of calathea referred to as prayer plants and vice versa.
But since “prayer plant” usually refers to a Maranta leuconeura, a prayer plant isn’t *technically* a calathea. It’s just related to the fam. In reality, though, many of these plants have similar behaviors and looks, despite belonging to different genuses. Not to be overly pedantic…I just like learning and trying to get things right! Call calatheas prayer plants all you want 😉
Since some of the calathea varieties do have the “prayer plant” look—that is, they fold up their leaves at night—you might be wondering how this happens. Each leaf has a “joint” between the stem and the leaf. It’s this joint that signals the leaves to curl up at night and unfurl in the morning.
Where is the calathea genus from?
Tropical climates. In Brazil, their leaves aren’t just beautiful, they are practical. In the past, they have been used to wrap and transport fish. In Colombia, they have been used to make containers, and in Thailand, they have been used to make rice containers.
As is the case with many tropical plants, calathea faces extinction in the wild due to destruction of its natural habitat. Most varieties are native to the South American continent, and it’s likely it was introduced to Hawaii several decades ago. In the past few decades, it has grown in popularity as a houseplant due to its lovely tropical markings.
What are the most popular calathea varieties?
Calathea is like peperomia in that they are often just labeled as “assorted calathea” in nurseries. It’s pretty easy to tell the difference between different varieties, though. They all look like cousins, similar in appearance but with notable differences. Here are some of the most popular calathea varieties you’ll likely find.
1. Calathea Lancifolia, or “Rattlesnake Calathea Plant”
The calathea lancifolia, otherwise known as the “rattlesnake plant” was one of the first calathea varieties I got many years ago. I can speak from experience when I say that this is one hardy plant. I’ve had it since long before I paid much attention to plant care. 🙂
It’s named after a rattlesnake because it has cool markings on its leaves that resemble…you guessed it, a rattlesnake! This variety can grow about a foot and a half tall, though mine has stayed relatively small over the years. The leaves have a longer and leaner look than some of the other calathea varieties, with wavy sides and the familiar calathea mix of yellow, green, and purple tones.
2. Calathea Roseopicta, or “Calathea Medallion” or “rose painted calathea”
I used to have a stunning calathea roseopicta, otherwise known as a calathea medallion or rose painted calathea, sitting on my desk. It truly is one of the most striking varieties of calathea, in my opinion. It has large, glossy, oval-shaped leaves that have a vivid green pattern on top and a bold purple on the bottom.
Rose painted calathea typically grows about a foot and a half tall as well, but it has a fuller look when compared to the rattlesnake calathea. As you can imagine, the rose painted calathea looked gorgeous in a bronze pot up against a black wall.
3. Calathea orbifolia
Calathea orbfiloia might not have the beautiful purple tones that some of its calathea cousins have, but it is just as striking without them! Its gorgeous large green leaves have vivid light stripes that take on a silver hue in the right light. Calathea orbifolia is a larger variety, growing over 2 feet tall and wide.
4. Calathea Makoyana, or “Peacock Plant”
The Calathea makoyana, otherwise known as the peacock plant, is just as beautiful and showy as a peacock. To me it actually looks a lot like the calathea roseopicta (rose painted calathea), and I could see them getting confused easily. They each have the same beautiful light greenish/yellowish markings on vivid green leaves with purple backsides.
This is a shorter variety of calathea, however, growing around a foot tall. It can develop white flowers, but this typically happens only to varieties growing outdoors.
5. Calathea ornata, or the “pin-stripe plant”
The absolutely gorgeous stripes on the calathea ornata are obviously what give it the “pin-stripe plant” name. The leaves are ovalish dark green with gorgeous light-colored stripes—deep purple bottoms, of course. These stunning leaves can grow to be over a foot! Yes please!
The pin-stripe plant itself, however, grows to be only about 2 feet wide. That means it’s a bushier variety of calathea that can grow just as wide as it can tall thanks to its lush leaves. Rumor has it that this variety is slightly less easy to take care of compared to other calathea varieties.
There is a second variety of calathea ornata as well, which can make things a bit confusing. It’s called “calathea ornata sanderiana,” but looks quite similar to the calathea ornata with the striking stripes. The difference is small and can mostly be noted in leaf size.
6. Calathea Warscewiczii, or the “Velvet Calathea” or “Velvet Jungle Plant”
The calathea warscewiczii is a beautiful evergreen plant with leaves that are rich green on top and deep purple underneath. They deep green has a velvety look to it and reminds me a lot of the deeper green varieties of the elephant ear.
This variety of calathea is also often confused with some of its fellow prayer plants in Marantaceae family. That’s because it droops a bit and closes up its leaves at night like the Maranta leuconeura (prayer plant), a distant relative. I’m dying to get my hands on one of these, especially because they can reach over 3 feet tall and have quite large leaves.
7. Calathea Zebrina, or the “zebra plant”
The calathea zebrina, otherwise known as the zebra plant, is a really common calathea houseplant variety. The markings on the tops of this variety’s leaves have thicker stripes, earning it the “zebra” name. Like many of the other varieties listed in this post, it has light and dark green leaf tops with deep purple bottoms.
8. Calathea Crocata, or “eternal flame”
The calathea crocata’s more common name “eternal flame” comes from its large orange flowers. While its colloquial name comes from its distinctive flowers, it’s still a similarly stunning calathea variety with the familiar deep green, ripple-like leaves.
Want more plant care tips? You’ll also love my guides on how to take care of monstera plants, how to take care of rubber plants, caring for peperomia plants, caring for ZZ plants, and how to care for philodendron.
Calathea Care: How Much Light Does a Calathea Need?
No matter the variety of calathea you end up with, their care needs are largely the same. Since Calathea varieties are native to tropical climates, they don’t need a ton of light. Think of it this way: any plant growing on the floor of the rainforest isn’t getting much sun because it’s living under layers of dense foliage. So they do best in medium and even indirect medium light.
This is great news—I find that many times, lower light plants don’t have such striking markings. And even if they do well in low light, striking markings might fade. That’s not so for the gorgeous calathea. In fact, too much direct sunlight can burn their leaves and even dull their colors and patterns.
Water, Humidity, and Temperature Needs for the Perfect Calathea Care
Much like calathea light needs, the plant’s origins in the hot, wet, and insanely humid rainforest tell you a lot about its water, humidity, and temperature needs as a houseplant. Calathea plants like to be kept moist but not wet. This seems tricky, but it’s not so bad.
Just make sure you don’t let it totally dry out between waterings. If you notice the top inch of soil is dry, give it some water. Make sure there is adequate drainage so that the routine watering doesn’t lead to the plant’s roots sitting in water. This could lead to the dreaded root rot. If you aren’t watering enough, you’ll notice the leaves start to get dry, curl a bit, and even turn brown around the edges. Water less in the winter, as with all houseplants.
Watering is just one part of keeping calathea plants hydrated, though. Humidity is the second part. If your plant’s leaves are curling or browning, it could also be a sign that the humidity levels are too low. You can use a humidifier, regularly mist your plants with a spray bottle, or add a saucer with rocks and water nearby to add moisture to the air.
Calatheas do well in a variety of regular household temperatures. They prefer over 65 degrees and do not do well in the cold or with bad drafts. Because of this plant’s water, humidity, and temperature preferences, calatheas make excellent candidates to live outdoors during the late spring and summer. Just make sure to keep them in a shaded area like under a deck, and make sure the pots have drainage holes so the roots aren’t sitting in rain-soaked soil.
Soil, Fertilizer, and Flowering
I’ve not noticed that my calathea plants were all that picky about soil. I simply use a regular well-draining potting soil like a soil design for indoor plants. I think that, for calatheas, succulent soil might be too well-draining. And regular indoor houseplant soil and a pot with a drainage hole is best. You can even add in some coco coir or fine moss to lighten up the soil.
As for fertilizer— fertilize your calathea plants during growing season (late spring, summer, early fall) roughly once a month using a regular ol’ balanced houseplant fertilizer. They will thank you. However, despite how well your calathea plants might be doing as houseplants, they likely won’t flower indoors (aside from the calathea crocata discussed above). But we forgive them because their leaves alone are worth it!
Calathea Care: Pruning, Potting, and Propagating
To keep your calathea plant looking its best, make sure to cut away any dead or yellowed growth. This will happen no matter how great your plant is doing—it’s just a fact of life. And although more calathea are slow growers, you’ll likely need to repot your plants every year or so. When we repot your plant, size up the pot and bit and use fresh soil.
Rattlesnake calathea update
I don’t want you guys to think that all of my plants are beautiful. We all have plants we struggle with, and calatheas are IT for me! Somehow I’ve managed to keep my rattlesnake calathea going for all of these years, but this winter it finally bit the dust.
It was struggling along, and I moved it outside for the summer. However, I don’t think I transitioned it gently enough, because the heat and outdoor light absolutely FRIED the leaves. So I cut them all down to the soil line to see if I could regrow my leaves. And check it out! Looks like this plant is giving me another shot 😉
If you want to propagate your calathea plant, you can do it by dividing an existing plant. The best time to do this is in the spring when repotting. Unfortunately this genus can’t be propagated through leaf cuttings. However, once you remove a calathea from it’s pot and loosen the roots, you’ll see it can be divided quite easily. Repot and baby as normal until the divided plants begin growing new offshoots.