Calathea is a large genus of leafy tropical plants found growing in the damp, swampy forest floors of the Americas. They’re characterised by their beautiful foliage, often looking as though someone has painted their leaves – and our plant of the month, Calathea Ornata (pin stripe calathea), certainly has that look about it! It’s soft pink stripes against the dark green leaves and a deep purple underside make them a hugely popular choice for us to keep in our homes.
Calathea as a whole are fast growing and very easy to look after – because they’re used to periodic flooding, they’re also ideal for the erratic waterers out there! In colder months they like to be left to dry out a little between waterings, but only allow the top layers of compots to dry out. In warmer months, you can keep the top surface of the soil damp the whole season. They prefer a humid environment so can be misted regularly. Grouping similar plants together also helps to create a microclimate that provides them with some natural humidity - a lack of humidity will cause browning at the edges of the leaves.
As mentioned above, Calathea Ornata have a deep purple underside to their foliage which allows them to absorb light in lower light levels, meaning they are best grown in shade or indirect light. Placing your Calathea in direct light will scorch the leaves and they won’t be happy for very long! Because of their natural shade dwelling and humidity loving habits, they’re the ideal bathroom plant. They prefer a warmer climate too (preferably above 15 degrees Celsius) so are best positioned away from any cold draughts.
Repotting yearly will ensure your plants vigorous growth and health, but if you’re neglectful of this they will still survive another year in the same pot (unless the roots can be seen emerging from the bottom/top). Leaves on a Calathea can be seen to move around regularly, looking as though they are waving to you. They move around to adjust to the light, and often draw in during the night hours. Keep an eye out for the spreading movement when they first see daylight!
Common problems with Calathea Ornata are browning tips of the leaves, and significant leaf curling. The leaf browning is nearly always due to either a draught, direct sunlight, or lack of humidity, whilst the leaf curling means it’s in desperate need for a water, so make sure to be aware of these signs!
Calathea are propagated by division. In spring and summer months, you can separate clumps of foliage and roots and re pot them into separate pots of multipurpose compost. Who wouldn’t want to double up on this beautiful specimen!