When Calathea is grown as a house plant it sometimes goes by the name Peacock Plant, Zebra Plant or Rattlesnake Plant because of its leaf markings, but it's much more common to stick to its latin name of Calathea. Occasionally you may find it labeled as "Prayer Plant" but this is probably a mislabel as the "Prayer Plant" is strictly a Maranta and therefore belongs in the Marantaceae family. Although (and we promise it won't get any more complicated than this) the Marantaceae family also includes the Calathea genus, so basically the plants are both closely related, they look very similar and essentially have the same care requirements.
There are several house plants which are grown exclusively for their foliage, and the Calathea is one of these. The leaves and plants themselves come in many shapes and sizes, each one will normally have gorgeous looking ornately patterned leaves, on occasion the markings can look almost artificial or painted on by a talented artist. The leaves tend to stand stiffly away from the main plant and if you are attentive you will notice that they change position slightly during the day in response to changes in temperature and humidity or moisture requirements. We could ramble on about how beautiful they look, instead however look around this page at the photos which hopefully capture just a little of the available variety.
This plant is not grown for it's flowers (which tend to be rare indoors anyway). That is true for all Calathea's except for C. crocata otherwise known as the "Flowering Calathea" which within the last few years has become incredibly popular and desired. It can be costly but the unique large number orange flowers and inherited good looking shaped (although plain) leaves often makes it worth the expense. If you plan to stick with the foliage as the focus then look out for C. makoyana, C. insignis / C. lancifolia, C. leopardina and C. zebrina.
All that beauty comes with a trade off however and that is in the care requirements. This is not an easy house plant to keep if you are inexperienced or prefer low maintenance house guests. The care instructions are detailed in full below, and while not overly special or difficult, the plant is not forgiving if you mistreat it for long periods of time.
No direct sunlight for Calathea's otherwise you will lose the markings. On the other hand very dark spots need to be given a miss as well. A North facing windowsill would be the first choice here, but any other situation will be acceptable providing you can provide shielding from the direct sunlight these places would receive at some point during the day.
For a Calathea to thrive as a house plant, high humidity, warm temperatures and lots of water are needed
People often come unstuck with the Calathea when it comes to its watering requirements. This plant demands to be moist at all times, but not "wet" or sitting in water. This means regular small amounts of water during the growing seasons as soon as the surface starts to dry up. Although the plant will let you off a little and accept less water when things turn cooler and darker as Winter approaches and takes hold.
Like your watering approach, humidity is really important to for a healthy and attractive looking Calathea. They all require high humidity and failure to provide this is one of the main causes of failure. Young or naturally small varieties would be excellent choices for a Bottle Garden. If this isn't an option you need to find other ways to increase humidity, regular misting of the leaves, while helpful is unlikely to be effective long term in a very arid place. If you are serious about keeping this plant indoors have a read of our humidity article.
Feed every fortnight during the growing season with a half strength proprietary houseplant fertilizer. None in Winter and avoid leaf shine products especially those with fertilizer included.
Healthy and vigorous plants will result from warm to high temperatures with reasonable ventilation but without strong draughts. As a minimum aim for 15°C - 21°C / 60°F - 70 °F. Never lower than 10°C / 50°F.
If growing well, look to repot every year or every other year during Spring or Summer into fresh potting soil. If you want to propagate your Calathea (see below) you can do this at repotting time, although the overall "bushy" look will be drastically changed.
Propagating large Calatheas is quite easy by division. Divide the plant by half (or into smaller pieces if you have a very large plant to start with) and pot each new section into it's own pot. Then keep the divisions shady, warm and moist by covering the pots with plastic. Once you can see new growth starting remove the plastic and grow as normal.
Speed of Growth
Moderately fast growth.
Height / Spread
Indoor Calathea's can reach a good age and size with correct care. The Flowering Calathea will reach a smaller size of 30cm / 12in or so where as the others could be double that at 60cm / 2ft.
The majority of Calathea's do not flower, or rather they do not flower indoors and this is because the conditions aren't suitable for them to do so. The exception to this is C. crocata which is sold not because of its leaf markings or shape, but because it does indeed produce wonderful orange flowers that wave above the plant's basic foliage. C. crocata will repeat flower again if you maintain good conditions as instructed above.
When the leaves get dusty, clean them with a damp cloth or wash the dirt off under a tepid shower. Do not use leaf shine products on Calatheas.
Crispy brown leaf edges and poor Calathea growth
This problem would be a classic case of low humidity. This plant demands warm and humid conditions pretty much constantly, if you don't provide this then the leaves will become tatty looking. Cut off the brown bits and improve its treatment going forward.
Leaves curling and spotted, with lower yellow leaves
Too little water i.e. underwatering. The soil needs to be kept moist for the majority of the time during the growing season. The only time it will forgive you for this is during the Winter when it has stopped growing, at any other time of the year these symptoms will appear.
Limp, rotting stems or drooping leaves
This could be a sign of overwatering, although it's more likely a sign of the temperature being too cold or from exposure to draughts. The damage will not be reversible if this is prolonged, move to a warmer spot or away from the cold draught immediately if you notice this happening.
Leaf pattern fading / washed out appearance
One of two reasons, either too much light or not enough. In 90% of cases its due to long term exposure to direct sunlight. Find a new shadier home for your plant.
Botrytis (Grey mold)
This is hard to pull off seeing as all Calathea plants love high humidity! But if the surrounding air is extremely muggy then this is entirely possible. Try to provide additional ventilation to the area.
Credit for Various Calathea growing in a greenhouse Article / Gallery - Kor!An
Credit for C. lancifolia - Gallery - Leroy
Credit for C. zebrina and C. leopardina - Gallery taken by Forest & Kim Starr
Credit for C. makoyana leaves - Gallery - Stickpen
Credit for C. lancifolia leaves - Gallery Dinkum
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