Calatheas: beautiful and varied foliage plantsAli Barwani
Calatheas are beautiful and varied foliage plants suitable for indoor
These popular houseplants are famed for their stunning foliage. Calathea varieties can have leaves
that are slender or wide, plain or colourful. They are ideal houseplants for growing in low-light
Houseplant customers seem to come in two sorts; those that want a bright blooming plant, and
those that appreciate the longer lasting pleasures of rich foliage. My experience at Capital Gardens
is that fantastic foliage is what people are choosing for their homes.
One houseplant that can bridge this love of colour and the desire for a burst of beautiful fresh
foliage is the Calathea.
What is a Calathea?
Calatheas are members of a tropical plant family known as the Marantaceae. Calatheas come from
Mexico, Mesoamerica, the Caribbean and tropical South America. Most of the popular varieties in
cultivation come from the Amazon region in South America.
Calatheas are jungle plants. In their natural habitat they grow in humid, low light situations at the
base of trees where their broad leaves capture any available light. This is why they thrive in warm
rooms with low light, and love bathrooms and hallways. Calathea plants have been shown to have
air purifying abilities and are non-toxic for cats and dogs.
What sort of Calatheas can I grow?
At Capital Gardens, The Home of Beautiful Houseplants, we stock a range of Calathea species and
varieties. We constantly search to source the highest quality plants for your home.
With over 300 types of Calatheas there are plenty to choose from- but there are several species we
regularly stock due to their proven suitability as houseplants, their great beauty and popularity.
Our Top 10 Calathea recommendations are:
1) Calathea lancifolia –
The Rattlesnake Plant. This Calathea has long lance-shaped leaves with
wavy margins. The leaves are boldly marked with dark green spots that look as if they were applied
2) Calathea leopardina –
The Leopard Plant. This delicate looking beauty carries small vibrant
green oval leaves on strong upright stems. The bright green leaves are decorated with dark green
markings resembling a leopard print.
3) Calathea makoyana –
The Peacock Plant. Has large pale green leaves decorated with stunning
feathered splotches of darkest green like a botanical Rorschach inkblot test.
4) Calathea orbifolia –
The Round Leaf Calathea. With giant, rounded, ribbed leaves this robust
Calathea really makes a statement in the home. The large light green leaves are streaked with silver
stipes on their upper surface.
5) Calathea ornata –
The Pin-stripe Calathea. Has large, shiny green leaves with many fine white
stripes. The undersides of the leaves are purple. Look out for the variety Calathea ornata ‘Sanderiana’
with strong pink tones to the stripes. Calathea ornata ‘White Star’ has paint-like patterning of white
and pink stripes and is highly prized by houseplant connoisseurs.
6) Calathea rubibarba –
The Velvet Calathea. Often overlooked in favour of its flashier relatives,
this form is highly tolerant of lower-light situations. Its long green leaves bring a pop of green to a
dark corner. The undersides of the leaves are furry and velvety purple and carried on long burgundy
7) Calathea roseopicta –
The Rose-Painted Calathea. This large-leaved form has glossy green
foliage with pale centres, and a patterning of paler marking, the undersides of the leaves are purple.
Several popular selected forms of this species exist. Calathea roseopicta ‘Medallion’ is the classic variety
with dark glossy leaves banded with emerald green and silver. The form Calathea roseopicta ‘Dottie’ is
worth looking out for, it has burgundy leaves, and the leaf makings are pink.
8) Calathea warscewiczii –
The Jungle Velvet Plant. This species hails from Costa Rica and
Nicaragua and has perhaps the most remarkable leaves of all Calatheas. Its rich green leaves are soft
and velvety to the touch, resembling the nap of a Hoxton hipster’s smoking jacket.
9) Calathea zebrina –
The Zebra Leaf Plant. This eye catching Calathea comes from south-eastern Brazil. Its large pale green
leaves are marked with broad stipes of monasterial green giving it appearance of a jungle animal.
The leaves curl up in the evening and unfurl early in the morning.
10) Calathea crocata –
The Eternal Flame Calathea. Although this plant has very attractive purple-flushed green leaves with
a contrasting burgundy underside, it is the only Calathea grown specifically for its flowers. The stunning,
bright orange compact inflorescences are carried on stems above the foliage and each can last for almost
Caring for your Calathea
Having tropical forest origins where the climate is always humid and never too cold Calatheas do best in
humid, low-light areas of the home. They are particularly suited to living rooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms.
Calatheas will do well in rooms with westerly or north facing windows.
Regular misting will keep your plant happy and stop the edges of its leaves from turning brown.
Calatheas prefer a constant room temperature between 16⁰C and 23⁰C, and dislike draughts.
These guys like moisture but should never have water left standing in their cover pots or saucers. Only
water them when the top 2cm of the potting compost feels dry to the touch. Rainwater is best for watering
Calatheas. Learning to get the watering regime right is the key to success with Calatheas, it took me a
while to get the balance right – the temptation is always to overwater.
Calatheas don’t require much care apart from the occasional removal of brown and shrivelling leaves. They
are slow growing plants and reach a maximum height of just over half a metre.
How big do they get?
Calatheas produce new leaves from out of a central rosette. As the plant grows it forms new rosettes that
together form a satisfying clump. In most Calathea species the flowers are small and insignificant, produced
hidden away under the large leaves. The leaves of some species can grow up to 0.5M in length. A mature
plant can be up to 1m across.
Watch how to care for your Calatheas:
Turning over a new leaf.
Calatheas have an unusual habit. They exhibit rhythmic daily movements. If you watch them in slow motion
they appear to be waving. Sometimes the movement can be accompanied by an audible rustling sound, and
occasionally by a loud popping noise.
Watch them move:
Other Calathea species roll their leaves up in the evening. The rolled-up leaves are sometimes use as shelters
by tiny bats.
These movements (known as Nyctinasty) are adjustments to changes in light levels. In the evening, the leaves
draw together as the plant shuts for the night (and the red undersides of the leaves of some forms then become
visible). In the morning, the leaves fold down and spread out. This movement is mediated by changes in water
pressure within the plant. This behaviour has earned them the name of ‘Prayer Plant’, a name they share with
their smaller cousin Maranta.
If you are looking for a dramatic houseplant to decorate your room, a plant with air purifying qualities, then a
Calathea is the plant for you. They enjoy the same conditions indoors that we like and are ideal for low-light areas
– they make light of shade. With their exotic jungle vibe Calatheas are the show piece of any home.
We are all spending a greater proportion of our lives at home nowadays and miss holidaying in warmer climates.
Do you want a tropical plant that makes a statement? Well, why not add a stunning jungle Calathea to your family
For more houseplant ideas for your home décor explore our other indoor plant blogs: