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pronounced: ka-LAY-thee-uh or-NAH-tuh
(Marantaceae — the arrowroot family)
common names: Pin-stripe Plant, Calathea
This genus is a jungle plant native to tropical rainforests at 150–500 m elevation in the Amazon basin from southern Colombia to Peru, and in north-western Brazil. Where it occurs naturally, the large and tough leaves are popular for holding small items. They may be used just as they are, as in parts of Brazil where they are used to wrap fish for transport. In other places the leaves are used in the making of containers, such as the arrow-quivers of the Nukak people of Colombia. In parts of Thailand, they are used to make the decorative rice containers, which are an important source of income when sold to locals and tourists alike.
In our gardens, they are mostly grown for their handsomely patterned foliage. There are about 300 species and many cultivars, but in the typical lined-pattern varieties the juvenile leaves are green above, patterned with pink lines between the lateral veins, and purple below. As the plant matures, the lines change to white, and usually disappear in leaves of mature, flowering plants. The underside of the leaf often changes from purple to green as well. Some plants produce a secondary ‘brush’ pattern of two broad, longitudinal, yellowish green bands after the lined pattern. Some species are also grown for their colourful inflorescences.
These plants will grow 30–60 cm in height in a shady corner of the garden, and will also do well as an indoor plant. They grow by means of a creeping rhizome, but are not particularly invasive. They prefer to be protected from strong winds and even mild cold. They do not like prolonged sunlight. If they are exposed to too much sunlight, the leaves tend to curl and burn. Some Calathea die down in midwinter, only to reappear in the summer. These appear to be the ones that have originated from the monsoonal tropics, where they die down in the dry season. In much of the world they can only be grown indoors, as potted specimens. As house plants, they need high temperature and humidity, and should be sprayed with water several times a week. They are, however, tolerant of lowish light conditions.
When it flowers, the inflorescence of Calathea ornata is ovoid, 8–13 x 6–10 cm, with 23–42 bracts, spirally arranged, stiff, orange in colour. The flower sepals are yellow-green or reddish orange, and stiff. The corolla is yellow-orange, pubescent. Under cultivation, the plants rarely set seed, and are propagated from division of the rhizomes.
Photograph taken in Picnic Bay 2010
Page last updated
14th October 2016