Pick a Pattern: Calathea

Pick a Pattern: Calathea

Do you like patterns? Calathea produces leaves that look like a Rorschach test.
If you like jungle prints, flashy stripes and plaids, and 1960s psychedelic art, I have the plant for you: Calathea. This plant produces large leaves with bold splashy patterns that will thrill your heart and add instant interest to any room. 

Calathea hails from Brazil (you can almost hear faint salsa music when you behold the wacky leaves). Calathea goes by a number of descriptive names (rattlesnake plant, peacock plant). And it’s a hot little number that adds instant pizzazz to a room. Here it is in my living room, left, where it hangs out in a shaded corner, getting just enough sun to keep its leaves vibrant. But not too much sun to annoy it; calatheas do not like bright sunlight.

What does annoy my calathea is when I forget to water it.  I don’t do it very often because I follow a schedule (Sunday is watering day!). But sometimes, for whatever reason, the controlled environment of my living room makes my calathea dry out faster (Is it the ceiling fan? Or the window I opened because of the gentle breezes outdoors?)

When my calathea is underwatered, it gets very dramatic. Its erect stems and leaves drop sadly over the side of the pot. (I guess I would too if I went without water for too long…) The sight of my prostrate calathea strikes fear in my heart (as well as heaping on a dollop of guilt). Because unlike a spathiphyllum, which crashes like a house of cards when underwatered, but stands right back up again with a good dousing like a parlor trick, calatheas don’t react to being dry with such good humor. They have a bit of a reputation for being “greenhouse plants,” but I’ve never had a hard time with them—except for my underwatering glitch. I’m much more vigilant about watering now. You should be too.  

I’ve had two calatheas for several years and they don’t cease to entertain me. But I’ve saved the secret surprise that accompanies the racy patterned leaves for last mention: flip over one of the beautiful leaves and reveal a dark solid purple underside. Check out how cool this looks.

Read more about the care (and feeding) of this exotic beauty. Then zip over to the garden center and get one. Or two. Like the Rorschach-test leaves may tell you if you look closely: it’s always a good day to buy a calathea.

Written by Karen Weir-Jimerson