Calathea is a genus of flowering tropical plants with more than 60 species and many varieties within each species. These plants are native to Brazil and Columbia, where they grow in the understory in bright filtered light. Also known as Prayer Plants, these remarkable houseplants close their leaves at night, giving the impression of praying hands.
While they can be grown outside in USDA plant hardiness zones 11 and 12, Calathea plants are most often grown inside as houseplants. They produce white or pink blooms in the wild but rarely bloom when grown inside. Depending on the variety, they can reach heights of 1 to 3 feet.
Prayer Plants are prized for their beautiful coloration, the unique habit of closing up at night, and their ability to thrive in low to medium light. In addition, Prayer Plants are thought to bring good luck and good fortune into the home.
How to Care for Calathea
Calatheas are relatively easy to care for and don't require special gardening skills. However, like other tropical plants, they are sensitive to the amount of light they receive, enjoy humid conditions, and like temperatures between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Calathea plants thrive in bright, indirect light but will suffer in direct sunlight as it will burn their delicate leaves. Some varieties will thrive in low light, but nearly all enjoy at least a splash of sunlight throughout the day. Aim for 6 hours of bright, indirect sunlight a day, but always use your plant's health as a guide.
As a rule, plants with variegated coloring need good light to maintain the dramatic foliage. So while Calathea plants will survive in low light, don't expect them to produce the striking markings they are known for unless they receive some bright light during the day.
If your Calathea plant looks dull or lacks the splashes of color you hoped for, move it to an area with more light.
Prayer Plants need evenly moist soil to thrive and suffer in excessively dry or soggy soil. Water them when the soil feels dry to the touch an inch or two below the surface and let them dry out before watering them again.
Water them until water runs freely through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot, but don't forget to empty the saucer. Water left in the saucer can lead to soggy soil and unhappy plants.
Plants require more frequent watering from spring until fall when they are actively growing and require less water in the fall and winter. However, sometimes the soil dries quicker in the winter, especially if the air in your home is dry. Use your plant's growth rate and health as a guide, and always check the soil moisture before watering your plants.
Calathea plants need well-draining potting soil to prevent problems with soggy roots. Equal amounts of all-purpose potting soil, perlite, and peat moss is a good choice. Otherwise, look for a potting mix with a combination of soil and soilless ingredients, like peat, bark, or coir. All-purpose potting soil is too dense when used alone and can lead to both compacted and waterlogged soils.
Water should drain through the soil within a few minutes when you water your plants. If it drains slowly or the soil remains soggy, consider changing the soil in your plant's pot.
Like other houseplants, Calathea plants benefit from fertilizer during periods of active growth. Fertilize your plants with water-soluble plant food designed for houseplants once or twice a month from spring until fall. Some plant lovers prefer to dilute the solution to 1/4 strength and apply it with every watering. Whichever you choose, use care not to over fertilize your plants.
Withhold fertilizer during late fall and winter when the plant rests from a busy season of growth. It is normal for growth to slow down during the winter. Resume fertilizing your plants in the spring when new growth appears.
Like other tropical plants, Calathea Plants thrive in high humidity in the wild and do best when those conditions are replicated inside. They prefer a humidity level between 50 and 90 percent but will survive with less.
To raise the humidity level near your Calathea plants, use pebble trays or a humidifier. Misting may be beneficial, but the effects are short-term and do not raise the humidity levels for more than a few minutes.
Other options include grouping your houseplants together, especially in the winter with the humidity level is low, so they can take advantage of the moisture given off during transpiration.
Prayer plants do well in kitchens and bathrooms where they can take advantage of the increased humidity, as long as there is adequate light.
Calathea warscewiczii hails from the tropical forests in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It has lance-shaped velvety foliage in deep green with distinctive light green veins and patterns on the surface of the leaf. Undersides of the leaves are a striking maroon.
It is known as Jungle Velvet, Calathea Velvet, or Velvet Touch due to its velvety leaves. It is sensitive to dry air and prefers high humidity levels. Use pebble trays or a humidifier to raise the humidity level near your Calathea Velvet. Avoid placing Jungle Velvet in areas with either hot or cold drafts.
It prefers bright indirect light and well-drained soil.
Calathea ornata, also known as the Pinstripe Plant, features long ornate leaves that reach a length of 12 inches. Each leaf of the Pinstripe Calathea is covered with bold white, or pinkish-white, stripes that angle outward from the center vein making a striking display against the dark green background.
To add to this plant's beauty, the long stems are burgundy. Calathea ornata 'sanderiana' is adorned with dramatic purple on the undersides of the leaves.
Grow the Pinstripe Calathea plant in bright, indirect light and display it to show off both its stripes and its dramatic stems.
Avoid areas with either hot or cold drafts from heating or AC vents and give it plenty of bright indirect sunlight.
Calathea orbifolia, also known as the round-leaf plant or the Orbifolia Prayer Plant is an exotic-looking plant that will brighten any corner. Calathea orbifolia can reach heights of 2 to 3 feet with oval leaves measuring 8 to 15 inches long and 10 to 15 inches across. The leaves are striped with light green or silver with striking silver-green undersides.
Like many tropical plants, Calathea orbifolia can survive in medium to low light, but they require at least 6 hours of bright indirect sunlight a day to maintain their dramatic stripes.
If your Calathea orbifolia plant begins to look lackluster and doesn't display the characteristic stripes you desire, try moving it to an area with more bright light, but avoid direct light as this can cause the leaves to burn.
Water your Calathea orbifolia plant when the soil feels dry to the touch and then let the soil dry slightly before watering it again. It may require watering once or twice a week during the summer when it is actively growing, but you should always check the soil first to be sure.
Calathea Medallion (Calathea veitchiana), also known as the Medallion Prayer Plant, is a striking houseplant with distinct markings that look like a feather on each leaf. The base leaf is a deep or dark green adorned with a feather of olive green surrounded by darker green and finally outlined in cream or white.
The undersides of the leaves are purple making this an excellent plant for bringing a splash of color and style to the room.
Grow Medallion Calathea in bright filtered light out of direct sunlight. Several feet from a sunny window is best, but if you choose to grow your Calathea Medallion closer to a window use a sheer curtain or drape to filter the direct light.
Calathea 'white fusion'
Calathea 'white fusion' is a variegated variety that features lance-shaped leaves in dark green. The variegation appears in wide stripes or splotches that alternate between medium to light green and white or cream. These plants need plenty of bright, indirect sunlight to maintain the variegation.
Because variegated areas on the dark green foliage lack the chlorophyll necessary to make energy from the sunlight, the plant will produce more dark green leaves in an attempt to gain more energy if it is grown in low light. Variegation will fade leaving you with lackluster plants with darker green leaves. More light will cause the plant to begin producing the dramatic coloration characteristic of Calathea 'white fusion'.
Like other Calathea plants, Calathea White Fusion likes soil that dries out slightly between waterings. Avoid issues with soggy soil by using a well-draining soil mix.
Calathea zebrina is often called a Zebra Calathea, but don't be misled by the name that the leaves are anything but spectacular. With a basal leaf color that is so dark purple, it is nearly black. It has bright green stems and stripes on the foliage.
This Calathea plant is sure to attract attention when grown in bright, indirect light and will dazzle the eye with color.
Choose a location for Calathea Zebra Plant that receives 6 hours of bright indirect sunlight a day, and it is sure to reward you with dramatic foliage that will have your visitors begging for one of their own.
Water your Zebra Calathea when the soil is dry to the touch 1 to 2 inches below the surface and then allow it to dry out slightly before watering it again.
Calathea makoyana is also known as the Cathedral Makoyana Calathea Plant, the Peacock Calathea, or simply the Peacock Plant, and for good reason. These slim, purple, or dark green leaves feature delicate white, cream, or bright green feathering that resembles the coloring of a peacock feather or cathedral window. This variety tolerates more light than some other Calathea plants and needs bright light to maintain its beautiful markings.
Try growing the Peacock Plant in an eastern window where it receives direct light in the morning or place it several feet from a western or southern window where it will receive indirect sunlight in the afternoon for 6 hours a day.
Water your Peacock Plant when the soil dries 1 to 2 inches below the surface.
Calathea roseopicta 'dottie'
Calathea roseopicta 'dottie', also known as the Rose Painted Calathea or Corona Painted Calathea, earns its name from the splashes of rose that outlines the leaves and sometimes adorn the center of the leaves, too. Otherwise, the foliage is deep green with white or cream markings and deep purple undersides.
This variety is sensitive to cold drafts and should not be grown near a drafty window or the vents from the AC.
Grow it in a location that receives indirect or filtered light for 6 hours a day. It can tolerate direct morning sun from an eastern window but will suffer from direct sun in the afternoon as the sun's rays are much stronger from a western or southern window.
Calathea lancifolia earns its common name as the Rattlesnake Calathea from its long narrow leaves with impressive light and dark green markings. In this variety, the base color of the leaf is light green while the markings are in striking shades of medium to dark green. Many appear to ripple with the wavy markings along the edges of the leaves.
Rattlesnake Calathea is ideal in a large pot or as a floor plant to add ambiance to the area. It grows to heights of 30 inches and is sensitive to either hot or cold drafts. Grow your Rattlesnake Calathea plant away from heating and AC vents and avoid areas with a draft from windows or doors.
Like other Calathea plants, the rattlesnake Calathea prefers bright indirect sunlight and well-drained soil.
Calathea musaica is also known as the Network Plant or The Network Prayer Plant due to its intricate mosaic pattern of crisscrossed, brightly-colored green stripes against a dark green background. This Calathea is a little more forgiving of occasional neglect and makes a great plant for those who don't boast a green thumb.
Place it in bright indirect light to maintain its beautiful coloration. An eastern window works well, but you can grow it in any location as long as it does not receive direct rays from the sun. If your area receives direct sunlight, hang a sheer curtain over the window to filter the light.
Water your Network Plant when the soil feels dry to the touch 1 to 2 inches below the surface and let the soil dry before watering it again.
Calathea rufibarba is a unique Calathea as it lacks the striking color variations many of the others sport. But, it makes up for it with the hairy fuzz on the undersides of the leaves that give this plant the common name of Furry Calathea or Furry Feather Calathea.
Its long slender leaves of light to dark green are held on long thin stems in shades of maroon and burgundy. The wavy edges of the leaves add visual interest and texture making this a favored Calathea for office spaces and waiting rooms, but it is equally at home in the living room or study. The foliage reaches a height of 3 feet and creates a mass of greenery to fill a nook or corner.
The Furry Feather Calathea prefers bright indirect sunlight and well-drained soil. Water it when the soil dries 1 to 2 inches below the surface and then let the soil dry before watering it again.
Many Calathea plants are commonly referred to as Prayer Plants, although they have a host of other common names too, depending on the variety. These tropical plants have the unique habit of closing the leaves at night so they look like hands held in prayer. This leads to the name of Prayer Plant and the thought that Prayer Plants bring good luck or good fortune.
Calathea plants come in a wide variety of colors and patterns making each variety unique in appearance and shape. While some are perfectly at home in a small pot on the desk others grow to 3 feet or more making them suitable as floor plants for the home or office.
Calathea plants make wonderful housewarming or hostess gifts as a way to wish the inhabitants good luck and good fortune.