The Exotic Colors of Calathea

The Exotic Colors of Calathea


Calathea goes by many names -- peacock plant, rattlesnake plant, zebra plant -- an attempt to describe its fantastic leaves.
When I was growing up my mother made a summer outfit for me that was reversible. I was 5 at the time, but I simply marveled at the way I could wear an orange top one day, then turn it inside out and wear butterflies the next day. It was like I had two outfits when I had really had just one.

I’ve never really lost my love of reversible things, and perhaps that’s why calatheas are one of my favorite houseplants.

Calathea’s common names hint at its exoticness: peacock plant, rattlesnake plant, and zebra plant. The patterned leaves clearly remind people of patterned animals or birds.

This South and Central American native bears some of the prettiest leaves of any houseplant--heavily patterned in silver, white, and shades of green on the leaf top. And, depending on the species, the underside is totally maroon or purple.

If you look at the plant from above, it looks totally different than when you look at it from below. In effect, it’s like you get two plants in one.

The upright oval or elongated leaves are simply fascinating, like Rorschach tests in plant form. You may spend a surprising amount of time admiring the stripes and zig-zags of the leaves. I know I do ;-).

Take care of your calathea and it will reward you with years of enjoyment (not to mention all the psychological enlightenment you’ll get from deciphering their Rorshach-test leaves). Plants like bright indirect light, but if exposed to too much bright light, their markings made fade. They also insist on moist soil—but not wet.

If the leaves of your calathea start turning brown at the edges, your plant is asking for more humidity. Use a humidifier or pebble tray to add more moisture to the air.