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Calathea (Prayer Plant): A Comprehensive Guide

Everything You Need to Know to Grow a Calathea (Prayer Plant)

pet friendly plants

Non-toxic and safe for pets. Peace of mind for pet owners.

Plant Care
Air Purifying
Filters indoor air pollutants, contributing to a healthier home environment.
Easy Care
Low-maintenance; ideal for beginners or those with a busy lifestyle.

Introduction to Calathea (Prayer Plant)

Welcome to the enchanting world of Calathea, also affectionately known as the Prayer Plant. This plant category stands out for its vibrant foliage, making it a centerpiece in the world of Foliage Plants. Calathea plants offer not just a visual feast with their stunning leaf patterns and colors but also bring a piece of the tropics into your home with their unique day and night movements.

A Glimpse into the World of Calathea

Calatheas are celebrated for their exquisite foliage, which ranges from deep greens and bright pinks to intricate designs that appear almost hand-painted. The real magic of Calathea, however, lies in its dynamic behavior – its leaves rise and fall with the sun, earning it the nickname “Prayer Plant.” This movement is a survival adaptation that helps the plant manage light exposure and moisture, making it a fascinating subject for both botanists and plant lovers.

The Significance of “Prayer Plant”

The name “Prayer Plant” is derived from Calathea’s nyctinastic movements, where its leaves move in response to the light cycle, reminiscent of praying hands. This feature not only adds a dynamic visual element to the plant but also reflects its adaptability and resilience, making it a captivating addition to any plant collection.

Calathea as a Foliage Plant

As a proud member of the Foliage Plant category, Calathea is valued for its lush and decorative leaves over its flowers. Foliage plants play an essential role in interior decorating and are known for their air-purifying qualities. Calathea fits perfectly into this category, offering both beauty and benefits for indoor environments. For more insights into foliage plants and how Calathea complements this vibrant group, explore our dedicated section on Foliage Plants.

Why Calathea Captures Hearts

  • Visual Appeal: The unique patterns and colors of Calathea leaves make it a standout choice for any plant lover.
  • Dynamic Movement: The rhythmic rising and falling of its leaves add an element of surprise and delight to plant care.
  • Versatile Decor: Calathea’s ability to fit into various decor styles, from minimalist to tropical, makes it a versatile choice for interior decorating.
  • Air-Purifying Qualities: Like many foliage plants, Calathea helps purify the air, making it a healthful addition to your home or office.

Embarking on the Calathea Journey

As we delve deeper into the world of Calathea, we aim to explore its history, varieties, and care secrets. This guide is designed to provide you with comprehensive knowledge about the Prayer Plant, ensuring your experience with Calathea is as enriching as it is enjoyable. Join us as we uncover the beauty and mysteries of these extraordinary plants.

Table of Contents

Historical Background of Calathea

The Calathea genus, with its origins in the lush rainforests of South America, particularly in countries like Brazil and Colombia, has a storied past that intertwines with the cultural tapestry of indigenous tribes. The plant’s unique adaptability to low light conditions made it a staple of the forest floor, contributing to the biodiversity and balance of the ecosystem.

  • Native Habitat: Thriving in warm and humid conditions, Calathea species are naturally found in the understory of the South American tropics, where their broad leaves capture the filtered light through the canopy.
  • Cultural Significance: Indigenous peoples have long admired Calathea for its rhythmic leaf movements and vivid patterns. Some tribes believed the plants were the resting places of spirits due to their daily leaf movements, symbolizing a spiritual connection with nature.
  • Historical Use: Calathea leaves were historically utilized by natives for their practicality; their large leaves were perfect for wrapping food and crafting useful items. The leaves’ patterns were often replicated in local art and could be seen in the design of clothing, pottery, and ceremonial objects.

During the 19th century, as explorers and botanists ventured into these tropical regions, Calathea plants captivated the interest of the Western world. They became prized specimens for collectors and a subject of study for scientists interested in their unique circadian leaf movements. The genus was officially categorized and named in the mid-1800s by German botanist, Georg Meyer, who was fascinated by their intricate leaf patterns and the way they stood out even in the rich tapestry of the rainforest biodiversity.

In modern times, Calathea has transitioned from the wild into an adored houseplant, valued both for its aesthetic and its ability to improve indoor air quality. Its historical background, once rooted in the sacred and practical lives of indigenous cultures, now finds resonance in homes and offices around the globe, symbolizing a bridge between the natural world and our daily lives.

Calathea: A Journey Through Time

Did You Know?

The movement of Calathea leaves is known as nyctinasty, and it's a reaction to the light cycle—truly a night-time show in the plant world!

Botanical Description of Calathea

The Calathea genus, a part of the Marantaceae family, is a captivating collection of plants with remarkable aesthetic and structural diversity. Botanically, these plants are known for their detailed foliage and intricate natural designs, making them a subject of fascination for botanists and houseplant enthusiasts alike.

  • Leaf Structure: Calathea leaves are broad with undulating edges, often displaying a variety of colors and patterns. The top surface features vibrant patterns, while the underside is typically a rich purple.
  • Flowering: Although known for foliage, Calathea does flower, producing small and delicate flowers that can be quite inconspicuous compared to the bold foliage.
  • Growth Form: These plants exhibit a clumping growth habit, with new leaves emerging from the central stem, unfurling gracefully to reveal their patterns.

The Calathea plant’s leaves are its most distinctive feature, often characterized by a feather-like appearance with various shades of green, white, pink, and even silver. The patterns range from stripes, spots, to flame-like shapes, earning them names such as ‘Zebra plant’ or ‘Rattlesnake plant’ due to the resemblance to animal skin patterns.

  • Size: The size of Calathea plants can vary, with some species capable of growing up to 2 feet tall, making them a perfect fit for indoor environments.
  • Root System: They possess a rhizomatous root system which helps in storing water and nutrients, contributing to the plant’s resilience.


In terms of botanical adaptation, Calathea plants have evolved to thrive in the lower light conditions of rainforest floors, which is why they are excellent choices for indoor areas with less natural light. The leaves’ movements, opening by day and closing at night, are a reaction to the light—maximizing light absorption during the day and conserving energy at night.

Calathea: Botanical Brilliance at a Glance

Fascinating Fact

Calathea leaves fold up during the night as if in prayer, which is not just for show—it actually minimizes water loss and maximizes light absorption.

Popular Plant Varieties of Calathea

The Calathea genus is rich with a variety of species, each boasting unique patterns and colors that enchant plant enthusiasts. Among the numerous types, there are a few that stand out for their striking beauty and popularity. These varieties are cherished not just for their decorative leaves but also for their distinct appearances, which add a touch of elegance to any setting. Here are four of the most beloved Calathea varieties:

Calathea orbifolia 1
Known for its large, round leaves with bold green stripes, creating a stunning visual impact.
Calathea zebrina
Aptly named for its zebra-like pattern, it features velvety green leaves with a rich purple underside.
calathea lancifolia (Rattlesnake Plant)
Recognizable by its long, wavy leaves with a pattern that resembles a rattlesnake’s skin.
Calathea roseopicta (Rose Painted Calathea)
Admired for its rose-colored markings on the leaves, providing a soft, blush-toned aesthetic.

Calathea Care Guide Instructions

Caring for Calathea plants involves mimicking their natural rainforest environment to the best of your ability. Here’s how you can provide optimal care:

  • Lighting:

    Calatheas flourish in bright, indirect light, but are also tolerant of lower light conditions, which mimic the dappled sunlight of their rainforest floor habitat. Too much direct sun can bleach or burn the leaves, so consider using sheer curtains to diffuse strong light. Rotate your Calathea periodically to ensure even growth on all sides.

  • Watering:

    Calatheas prefer the soil to remain slightly moist but not soggy. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so it’s crucial to use a pot with good drainage. Calatheas are sensitive to the minerals and chlorine found in tap water; if your tap water is heavily treated, consider using distilled water or rainwater. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again.

  • Humidity:

    High humidity is vital, as Calathea leaves can develop brown edges when the air is too dry. Besides using a humidifier, grouping plants together can create a microclimate with higher humidity. Misting the leaves can help, but be cautious as it may also promote fungal diseases if overdone. A pebble tray filled with water placed beneath the plant pot is an excellent way to increase humidity without wetting the foliage directly.

  • Temperature:

    Calatheas thrive in a warm environment and are not frost-tolerant. They prefer a stable temperature range without fluctuations 65-75°F (18-24°C). Keep your Calathea away from cold drafts and open windows in winter, as well as away from air conditioners in summer. Sudden temperature changes can stress the plant, leading to leaf curling or shock.

  • Soil:

    The ideal potting mix for Calatheas should hold moisture but also allow excess water to drain quickly to prevent rot. A mixture containing peat or coco coir can help maintain moisture balance. Adding perlite or vermiculite improves aeration, and a bit of worm castings or compost will provide nutrients to support leaf development and plant health.

  • Fertilization:

    During the growing season, a monthly application of a diluted, balanced fertilizer will support lush foliage. However, in the dormant season (fall and winter), reduce feeding to prevent the buildup of mineral salts that can harm the plant. Flush the soil with water periodically to wash away accumulated salts.

  • Pruning:

    Regular pruning maintains the plant’s appearance and health. Use sterile pruning tools to prevent the spread of disease. Pruning can also encourage bushier growth by stimulating new shoots to develop. Remove only the leaves that are discolored or damaged, and avoid cutting healthy foliage.

  • Pest and Disease Management:

    Calatheas can attract pests like spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. Use a mild, natural soap solution to gently wipe the leaves for pest control. Neem oil can also be effective as a preventative measure. Ensure good air circulation around your Calathea to deter fungal infections, and isolate new plants to prevent the spread of pests and diseases.

By replicating the tropical conditions of the Calathea’s native environment, you’ll enjoy the beauty and vitality of its unique and vibrant foliage.

Calathea Care Summary

Green Wisdom

A Calathea in your room is not just a plant, it's a daily reminder of the Earth's natural rhythm.

Four Steps to Flourishing Calathea

Embark on a journey with your Calathea that ensures lush growth and vibrant patterns. Follow these essential steps to cultivate a healthy, thriving tropical beauty in your home or office.
Discover the Perfect Calathea
Begin by choosing a Calathea species that complements your indoor environment. Consider the light intensity, humidity levels, and ambient temperature of your space. Varieties like Calathea orbifolia boast large, rounded leaves with bold stripes, while Calathea lancifolia features long, wavy leaves with unique patterning.
Foundation for Growth
Invest in a nutrient-rich, well-aerating potting mix that simulates the Calathea’s natural forest floor habitat. A pot with proper drainage is crucial to prevent root rot. Ensure the pot size comfortably fits the root ball, allowing room for future growth.
Nurture with Nuance
Develop a care routine that mimics the Calathea’s tropical origins. Water when the soil’s surface starts to dry, mist regularly to maintain high humidity, and provide diffused light that encourages vibrant leaf coloration without scorching. Fertilize monthly during the growing season with a balanced formula.
Sustain & Enhance Beauty
Periodically prune your Calathea to remove old or yellowed leaves, which encourages new growth and maintains a dense, attractive foliage crown. Stay vigilant for signs of pests or diseases, and treat promptly. Use these trimmings to propagate new plants, multiplying your collection of these mesmerizing marvels.

Propagation Methods for Calathea

Propagating Calathea plants offers an engaging opportunity to expand your collection of these stunning foliage plants. While Calatheas can be somewhat particular about their growing conditions, successful propagation can be achieved through the right techniques. Below, we explore the most effective methods for propagating Calathea plants, ensuring each step is clear and actionable for the best possible outcome.

1. Division

Division is the most common and effective way to propagate Calathea plants. This method involves separating the plant into smaller sections, each with its own root system. It’s best performed during the repotting process in spring or early summer when the plant is actively growing.
  • Step 1: Carefully remove the plant from its pot and gently shake off excess soil to expose the roots.
  • Step 2: Identify natural divisions in the root ball where the plant can be separated easily.
  • Step 3: Using your hands or a clean, sharp knife, divide the plant into smaller sections, ensuring each has several healthy roots and at least one or two shoots.
  • Step 4: Repot each division into a suitable potting mix, ideally one that mimics the plant’s native environment—rich, well-draining, and slightly moist.
  • Step 5: Water the new plants lightly and place them in a warm, humid environment away from direct sunlight to encourage recovery and growth.

2. Offsets

Some Calathea species produce offsets or “pups” that can be separated from the mother plant. This method allows for a natural and easy way to propagate, as these offsets can be carefully removed and potted on their own once they have developed a sufficient root system.
  • Identification: Look for small offsets growing around the base of the plant.
  • Separation: Gently separate the offsets from the main plant, taking care to preserve as many roots as possible.
  • Potting: Pot the offsets in individual pots with a suitable potting mix and care for them as you would a mature Calathea, focusing on maintaining high humidity and avoiding direct sunlight.

While division and offset separation are the most common and effective propagation methods for Calathea plants, it’s important to remember that patience is key. These plants can be slow to establish and may require additional time to adjust and begin new growth. Providing a stable environment with consistent humidity, temperature, and indirect light will support the health and growth of your propagated Calatheas.

Calathea Propagation Summary

Plant Trivia

Some Calathea species are so sensitive to light that even the slightest change can trigger their leaves to move.

Pruning and Training: Shaping Your Calathea for Perfect Growth

Pruning and training Calathea plants are crucial for maintaining their health and aesthetic appeal. This detailed guide offers step-by-step instructions and best practices:

  • Understanding Pruning:
    • Pruning goes beyond mere aesthetics; it’s essential for removing potentially harmful or dead foliage that can attract pests or harbor disease.
    • Spring, as the plant exits dormancy, is the optimal time for pruning. This timing allows the plant to focus its energy on healing and regrowth during its most vigorous growth phase.
    • Use sterilized pruning shears or scissors to make precise cuts. This prevents the spread of disease and ensures a clean healing process for the plant.
  • Effective Training Techniques:
    • Rotate your plant every few weeks to ensure all sides receive equal light exposure. This promotes a balanced, symmetrical growth pattern, preventing the plant from leaning towards the light source.
    • For taller Calathea varieties, consider gentle staking. Use soft ties to attach the plant to a bamboo stake or moss pole, providing support without damaging the stem.
  • Post-Pruning Care:
    • After pruning, a slight increase in humidity can help the plant recover. Consider placing it in a more humid room or near a humidifier.
    • A light application of a half-strength balanced fertilizer can kickstart growth, but avoid over-fertilizing which can stress the plant.
    • Monitor the plant for signs of stress or disease in the weeks following pruning. Early detection is key to addressing any issues promptly.


Additionally, when pruning, aim to remove only the leaves that are significantly damaged or diseased. Slight discolorations or minor imperfections on leaves can be part of the plant’s natural character. Pruning should be targeted and intentional, focusing on the health and growth of the plant rather than achieving perfection.

Training your Calathea also includes adjusting its environment to mimic its natural habitat. Aside from physical support, ensure the plant receives diffused light and is protected from direct sun, which can scorch its leaves. Consistency in care after pruning and training reinforces the plant’s resilience, leading to a more robust and visually appealing Calathea.

Key Takeaways on Pruning and Training Calathea

Did You Know?

In the Victorian language of flowers, Calathea symbolizes new beginnings. Owning one is like having a daily dose of hope in your home.

Common Issues and Solutions, Pests and Disease

Calathea plants are exquisite additions to indoor spaces but can encounter several issues. This guide delves deeper into common problems, offering detailed solutions to ensure your Calathea thrives.

1. Yellowing Leaves: Underlying Causes and Remedies

  • Cause: Overwatering is the primary culprit, but low humidity and nutrient deficiencies also play significant roles. Excess water can suffocate roots, preventing oxygen uptake, while low humidity doesn’t support Calathea’s tropical nature. Insufficient nutrients affect the plant’s overall health, leading to yellow foliage.
  • Solution: Ensure your pot has adequate drainage and only water when the top inch of soil is dry. Use a pebble tray or room humidifier to raise humidity levels around the plant. Incorporate a balanced, liquid fertilizer into your care routine, applying it every 4-6 weeks during the growing season but reducing frequency in winter.

2. Brown Leaf Edges: Humidity and Fertilization

  • Cause: Crispy, brown edges often indicate dry air conditions or the presence of too much fertilizer, which can lead to salt buildup in the soil, further drawing moisture away from leaf margins.
  • Solution: Boost ambient humidity levels with a humidifier or group plants together to create a microclimate. If over-fertilization is suspected, flush the soil with plenty of water to leach out excess salts. Going forward, ensure fertilizer is diluted and applied according to package directions, avoiding overuse.

3. Pest Infestations: Identification and Control

  • Common Pests: Spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids can be particularly troublesome, manifesting as webbing, sticky residues, or visible insects on the underside of leaves.
  • Solution: Isolate the affected plant to prevent spread. For a mild infestation, wipe leaves with a soft, damp cloth dipped in soapy water. In more severe cases, apply neem oil or an appropriate insecticidal soap, following the product’s instructions. Regular inspection and maintaining clean foliage can prevent future outbreaks.

4. Fungal Diseases: Prevention and Treatment

  • Common Issues: Overly moist conditions can lead to root rot and leaf spot diseases, characterized by soft, brown spots on leaves or a wilting plant despite adequate watering.
  • Solution: Improve soil drainage by mixing in perlite or sand. Ensure pots have drainage holes. Remove and dispose of any affected foliage. If root rot is suspected, repot the plant into fresh soil after trimming away rotted roots. In cases of leaf spot disease, reduce leaf wetness by watering at the base of the plant and consider applying a fungicide.

5. Curling Leaves: Addressing Environmental Stress

  • Cause: Leaf curl can result from underwatering, low humidity, or exposure to drafts or temperature fluctuations, signaling the plant’s attempt to reduce water loss.
  • Solution: Ensure consistent soil moisture without waterlogging, and maintain high humidity around the plant. Shield the plant from direct air currents from windows, doors, or HVAC systems. Gradually acclimate your Calathea to any new environments if moved.

By addressing these issues with informed care and prompt action, you can enjoy the lush, vibrant beauty of Calathea plants in your indoor garden.

Design and Styling Summary

Nature's Secret

The underside of the Calathea leaf is often a deep purple, a coloration that is thought to help in absorbing light.

Interesting Facts about Calathea Plants

Calathea plants, with their splendid leaf patterns and unique behaviors, are a treasure trove of fascinating facts and practical insights. Let’s delve into what makes these plants so special and how you can make the most out of having them in your home:
  • Dynamic Leaves: Calatheas participate in a daily performance through nyctinasty, where their leaves rise and fall with the sun. This movement is not just a marvel of nature but also a conversation starter in your home. Place them where they can be easily viewed to enjoy this natural spectacle.
  • Living Air Purifiers: By absorbing pollutants, Calatheas act as natural air purifiers. Situate them in workspaces or living areas to enhance air quality, contributing to better concentration and reduced stress levels.
  • A Symbol of Renewal: Given their symbolism of new beginnings, consider placing a Calathea in your home office or study area to inspire creativity and motivation, making every glance a reminder of personal growth and new possibilities.
  • Diverse Collection: With over 300 species, collecting Calatheas could become a rewarding hobby. Create a ‘Calathea corner’ in your home where different species can be displayed together, creating a lush, mini indoor jungle that showcases the diversity of these plants.
  • Humidity Haven: Thriving in humid conditions, Calatheas are perfect for enhancing the bathroom or kitchen’s ambiance. Their need for moisture will be naturally met in these spaces, reducing the need for frequent misting.
  • Safe for Pets: Their non-toxic nature makes Calatheas safe for homes with pets. Placing them in common areas allows pets and plants to coexist harmoniously, enriching your living space without the worry of toxicity.
Embracing Calathea plants in your home comes with a wealth of benefits, from air purification to enhancing your decor with their striking presence. Understanding their needs and preferences not only ensures their health but also allows you to fully enjoy the unique qualities they bring into your home environment. Whether it’s creating a peaceful corner for relaxation or adding a touch of the tropics to your interior, Calatheas offer endless possibilities to enrich your living space.

Engaging with Calathea Plants

Eco Tidbit

Calatheas are not just beautiful—they're also on NASA's list of air-purifying plants that improve indoor air quality.

Embrace the spirit of horticulture and spread the seeds of wisdom

Botanical Bite

Each Calathea variety has a different leaf pattern, and no two leaves are exactly the same—nature's own fingerprint.

Calathea Care FAQs

In this section, we address some of the most frequently asked questions about Calathea plants. Whether you’re curious about their toxicity to pets, the specifics of watering, or peculiarities of their growth, we’ve got you covered with expert answers to ensure your Calathea thrives.

No, Calathea plants are non-toxic to cats and dogs. They are pet-friendly and safe for your furry friends to be around.

Calathea can be propagated by division during repotting. Carefully separate the plant into smaller sections, ensuring each has roots attached, and pot them into separate containers.
Water Calathea plants when the top inch of soil is dry. Typically, this means watering once a week, but frequency may vary depending on environmental conditions.
Use lukewarm water and water the plant until it drains from the bottom of the pot. Avoid letting the plant sit in standing water.
Calathea plants generally prefer to be somewhat snug in their pots but not overly root-bound. If you notice a significant decrease in growth, it may be time to repot.
Calatheas are not aquatic plants and do not grow in water. They need well-draining soil to thrive.
Curling leaves can indicate under-watering, low humidity, or exposure to drafts. Ensure consistent watering and humidity levels.
Some Calatheas are commonly called prayer plants due to the way their leaves move up and down in a prayer-like manner, but the term “prayer plant” more accurately refers to the genus Maranta.
Drooping leaves can result from either over-watering or under-watering. Assess your watering routine and adjust accordingly. If your Calathea is dying, consider potential issues like root rot, pests, or disease, and take appropriate action such as improving drainage, isolating the plant, or applying suitable treatments.
Calatheas prefer bright, indirect light. Direct sunlight can fade the colors on their leaves or even cause burns.
Place your Calathea in a spot with bright, indirect sunlight, away from drafts and heat sources. A north or east-facing window with filtered light is ideal.
Calatheas thrive in well-draining, slightly acidic soil rich in organic matter. A peat-based potting mix with perlite or vermiculite works well.
Fertilize your Calathea during the growing season (spring and summer) with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4 weeks. Do not fertilize in fall and winter.
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