While the majority of the plants we feature are easy to please for even the least experienced of green thumbs, there is one genus of plant that requires us all to step up our plant parent game: Calatheas.
Calatheas are a genus of tropical plants native to the jungles of South America and notorious for their wide, colorful, and uniquely patterned leaves. In some regions, their vibrant foliage is used for artisan crafts, basket weaving, or even for wrapping food. We haven’t learned how to basket weave with Calathea leaves yet, but it’s officially on our bucket list!
As part of the Marantaceae family, Calatheas are closely related to the Maranta genus; both fall into the category colloquially known as ‘Prayer plants’ due to the fact that they curl their leaves up at night and lower them in the day to synch with their circadian rhythm. Certain species also rotate their leaves in accordance with the sun’s movement across the sky on a sunny day!
Some of the most popular calathea varieties include the Rattlesnake calathea (Calathea lancifolia), Pinstripe calathea (Calathea ornata), Medallion calathea (Calathea ceitchiana), and the Zebra plant (Calathea zebrina). You really can’t go wrong with which variety of Calathea you choose to bring home. They all add captivating jungle vibes to any indoor space!
Here are the most important factors to consider when caring for your Calathea plants...
This is where Calatheas get their reputation for being fussy and somewhat temperamental - Calatheas aren’t a fan of the chlorine levels found in most tap water. Use distilled or purified water for your Calathea plants, or leave tap water out to room temperature overnight before using it for watering.
Give your Calathea enough water to reach their roots, but not so much that they’re sitting in a puddle. Calatheas like to have consistently moist soil, so make sure to never allow the soil to dry out completely. As with all plants, this means you should expect to water more often in the warmer months and less often in the winter!
Calatheas prefer medium to bright, indirect sunlight to live their best lives. As dwellers of the jungle floor, in the wild they receive sunlight filtered through the forest canopy. Direct sunlight will burn the leaves of a Calathea plant and bleach out its vibrant color. As prayer plants, you’ll often notice your Calathea rotating its leaves throughout the day in accordance with the sun’s movement across the sky. So don’t be alarmed when your Calathea’s leaves are in a different position than when you last saw it!
These plants really like it humid! Consider investing in a humidifier to keep your Calatheas comfortable, or create a humidity tray that holds pebbles and water. As water evaporates, it will increase the humidity levels in the air surrounding your plants!
Calatheas don’t require much fertilizing. Give them a standard houseplant fertilizer in early spring to promote maximal flowering and growth.
Yellowing leaves signifies that your Calathea has been overwatered, while wilting or consistently curling leaves indicates that your Calathea is thirsty!
These are a fan favorite for pet owners, as Calatheas are non-toxic and pet friendly!
Photo credit: @our_urbanjungle