Plants 101

How To Care for a Calathea

Learn how to care for most varieties of calathea plants, including Calathea Rattlesnake, Pinstripe Calathea, Peacock Plant (Calathea Makoyana), and other popular prayer plants.

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Calathea is a genus of neotropical rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plants that are known for the unique leaf movements of patterned foliage (more on that below). Calatheas are also considered pet-friendly plants, making them great plant picks for anyone that shares a space with curious pets.

In the tropics (mostly Brazil), colorful calathea leaves are used for handicraft and food wrapping. Because of the diversity of the leaf shapes, baskets are weaved with the lanceolate leaves, and food is wrapped with the wider leaves. These colorful leaf markings also make them popular houseplants, and their popularity has been growing. The Calathea Makoyana or Peacock Plant, Calathea Medallion (Calathea veitchiana ‘Medallion’), Rattlesnake Calathea (Calathea lancifolia), Pinstripe Calathea (Calathea ornata), and Calathea Dottie (Calathea roseopicta 'Dottie') are some of the most popular species.

Calatheas are part of the ‘prayer plant’ family, Marantaceae. The prayer plant nickname stems from the daily movements of the plants leaves, known as nyctinasty. Various plants in this family move their leaves up at nighttime and lower them in the daytime in accordance to a circadian rhythm. They move their leaves by changing the water pressure in their pulvini, the swollen nodes at the base of the leaf, along the leaf stalk (petiole). It is believed that these movements are meant to follow the sun’s movement in the sky in order to maximize light absorption.

How much sunlight does a calathea need?

Calatheas thrive in medium to bright indirect light, but can tolerate low indirect light.

How often should you water a calathea?

Water every 1-2 weeks, allowing soil to dry out half way down between waterings. Expect to water more often in brighter light and less often in lower light.

Do calatheas need humidity?

Calatheas prefer higher humidity if possible. Consider incorporating a fine-mist mister or humidifier to boost humidity level indoors.

What temperature do calatheas like?

Like most popular houseplants, calatheas prefer temperatures in the 65°F-85°F range (18°C-30°C), similar to their tropical native habitat. It’s best not to let the temperature go below 60°F (15°C) to avoid cold damage.

What’s the best soil for calatheas?

Calatheas prefer a well-draining potting soil or mix. Look for ingredients like compost, pine bark, coco coir, worm castings, and perlite. These provide nutrients and help maintain moisture (but not too much).

Are calatheas easy to care for?

Calatheas are generally easy-going plants but there are some common problems you can look out for:

SYMPTOM: Wilting, curling leaves, dry potting mix
CAUSE: Underwatered, or low humidity levels

SYMPTOM: Yellowing leaves, black base, wet potting mix
CAUSE: Overwatered

SYMPTOM: Leaf spots
CAUSE: Fungal infection or mineral build up from tap water—use distilled water and water directly into surrounding potting soil

SYMPTOM: Plant pests
CAUSE: Houseplant pests like mealybugs, fungus gnats, and spider mites can happen, treat them as soon as they appear with weekly sprays of a natural pesticide like neem oil and regular wipe-downs of the plant

Are calatheas safe for pets?

Calatheas are pet-friendly! They are considered non-toxic, making them safe to keep around cats and dogs. However, the best practice is to keep houseplants out of reach of small children and curious pets just in case.


Words By The Sill

Empowering all people to be plant people — a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of Plant Experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.