Jul 5, 2023 - News

Read this before buying a calathea

My calathea ornata (left) was doing okay in November 2022. By April 2023, it was a mere shadow of what it used to be. Photos: Kristal Dixon/Axios

Every houseplant enthusiast has at one point fallen for the calathea scam. Whenever I'm at a plant shop and see someone pick up a calathea, I get this urge to run over, put the plant back on the shelf and tell the person that they won’t win that battle.

  • But we all gotta learn the hard way, right?

These magnificent beauties — collectively referred to as prayer plants because their leaves open in the mornings and close in the evenings — lured me in with their eye-catching designs but have been the source of so much frustration.

Here's why: These cranky babies enjoy moist soil but are sensitive to overwatering.

  • They don't need much light, but their leaves can burn if they get too much.
  • They hate the minerals in your tap water, so you gotta buy distilled water.
  • Calatheas need more humidity than what's in the average home.
  • They're prone to spider mites, a brutal lesson I learned last year when dozens of them in my office were afflicted.

State of play: I currently have four calatheas and six of their cousins: four marantas, a ctenanthe setosa “grey star” and a stromanthe Triostar. After last year's battle with pests and my third calathea ornata losing nearly all of its leaves, I'm calling it quits on these plants.

  • I’ll maintain the ones I have, but if they can’t survive in my apartment’s conditions, then that’s on them.

Yes, but: If you're determined, here's a pretty good overview of caring for a calathea.

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