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Calathea Crocata – Eternal Flame Plant Growing Guide

Calathea crocata are the crinkly leaved, flowering calathea you see in garden centers, sold for their exquisite red foliage, with the added bonus of bright orange flowers.

Calathea crocata take their common name from these flowers – Calathea eternal flame, thanks to their ability to flower repeatedly all year round in their natural habitat, but also because they will burst into flower whenever they are coaxed into it indoors too.

In this article I want to share the tricks to get your Calathea to flower, and how to create the right conditions for Calathea crocata when growing it indoors as a houseplant.

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Calathea Crocata – Eternal Flame Plant Growing Guide

What is Calathea Crocata?

Calathea crocata is the only reliably flowering calathea in regular cultivation

Calathea crocata is the only reliably flowering calathea in regular cultivation. The species was first discovered in 1891 by Otto Kuntze, and like all Calathea at the time was labeled Phyllodes – later reclassified to Calathea in the 1960s (a genus that now makes up the largest part of the Phyllode family).

Its name, Crocata, translates as ‘Saffron-coloured’ in reference to the saffron-yellow flowers that growers are rewarded with for proper care, but most cultivated varieties sold in today’s garden centers have been selectively bred for more reliable flowering in cooler climates and have developed richer orange flowers across most subspecies.

Plant Name:

Calathea Crocata

Genus:

Calathea

Species:

Crocata

Common Names:

Eternal Flame Plant, Calathea Eternal Flame

Location:

Indoor

Type: 

Tropical flowering house plant, grown for its foliage

Growth:

40-60cm tall; 40cm-50cm across

Sun Requirements:

Bright, indirect light

Foliage Color:

Green with painterly white and red streaks and a blood-red underside

Flower Color:

Orange / Saffron-yellow

Flowering:

Early autumn

Fruit: 

None

Maintenance Level:

Medium

Poisonous for Pets:

Non-toxic to cats and dogs (edible starchy roots for humans)

Calathea Crocata’s Natural Habitat

Calathea crocata were discovered in Peru in the late 1800s and classified in 1891 by Otto Kuntze following discoveries in Brazil and Peruvian rainforests.

The rainforest floor is a surprisingly dark place in summer when trees are in full leaf, blocking most of the light before it reaches the ground, and keeping most of the water for themselves, meaning that even in torrential rain, most rain is directed to tree roots, which keeps the soil moist but never soaked.

The dark summers on the rainforest floor are a clue to how to care for Calathea crocata, which only flowers after a period of darkness followed by longer, cooler days. We’ll explore exactly how to do this later in the article. 

Eternal Flame Plant Growing Habits

Calathea crocata are resilient plants, with matt surfaces and velvety undersides to each leaf. They store energy in their root system meaning they can cope with periods of darkness and shade but do not like drying out.

Calathea crocata is a compact foliage houseplant if grown just for its leaves, usually forming a dome or around 40x40cm and a flowering height of 60cm in early autumn.

The leaves of Calathea are evergreen, but old leaves will begin to fade and lose their vigor so can be pruned out to increase visual appeal.


Best Calathea Crocata Varieties to Grow

Calathea crocata have just one natural strain, crocata, but there are three C. crocata varieties that have been selectively bred by Calathea collectors since the 1960s, which include Tassmania, Candela, and Ventura.

Each has slightly different characteristics that don’t affect the plant’s health and performance but do make some better for smaller spaces, and others more appropriate for brighter conditions.

1. Calathea Crocata ‘Tassmania’

Despite its name, C. crocata Tassmania has nothing to do with Tasmania and was bred by dedicated Calathea collectors to create a combination of richer leaf color and more reliable flowering on shorter stalks.


C. crocata Tassmania grows in 50x50cm domes at full maturity and sends true saffron-coloured flower spikes up above the plant to around 60cm tall.


Because of their darker leaves, they do prefer slightly brighter spots than most Calatheas. Like all dark-leaved plants, their chloroplasts have to do more work to photosynthesise through the darker surface.

Calathea Crocata ‘Tassmania’ was bred by dedicated Calathea collectors to create a combination of richer leaf color and more reliable flowering on shorter stalks

Source: venditapianteonline.it

2. Calathea Crocata ‘Candela’

C. crocata Candela are more compact flowering Calatheas, usually only reaching a leaf height of around 30cm, but with a more upright habit than Tassmania so you get more of a daytime impact from the stalks before they wrap up in the evening.


Their flowers stand taller than the matt foliage on C. crocata Candela, reaching 50-60cm tall in early autumn.


Candela are the most common flowering calathea you can find in garden centers too – a clue to the fact they are easier than most to grow from seed.

Calathea Crocata ‘Candela’ are more compact flowering Calatheas

Source: pflanzmich.de

3. Calathea Crocata ‘Ventura’

C. crocata Ventura are the rarest of the flowering calathea, and exceptionally hard to find in garden centers, but if you do find one they are incredibly beautiful plants with deep wrinkles in their leaves and a paler, almost pastel red on the underside of their leaves, with flower spikes that reach up to 70cm, and a leaf dome that can be around 60x50cm.


They are harder than most Calathea to make flowers, but well worth the effort for a more natural Calathea crocata, closer to its natural form.

Calathea Crocata ‘Ventura’ are the rarest of the flowering calathea

Source: hortipoint.nl

4. Calathea Crocata ‘Maravida’

C. crocata Maravida is virtually identical to C. crocata Tassmania, but has a deeper red tone to its flowers, and slightly paler leaves, making it a great addition to a bright living room where you want to increase the botanical freshness.


Maravida benefits from a sphagnum moss mulch to help keep the soil moist, but this does create more work for you as a gardener, as the moss will stay moist when the soil dries out so you need to pay closer attention to watering.

Calathea Crocata ‘Maravida’ is virtually identical to C. crocata Tassmania, but has a deeper red tone to its flowers, and slightly paler leaves

Source: bol.com

1. Calathea Crocata ‘Tassmania’

Calathea Crocata ‘Tassmania’ was bred by dedicated Calathea collectors to create a combination of richer leaf color and more reliable flowering on shorter stalks

Source: venditapianteonline.it

Despite its name, C. crocata Tassmania has nothing to do with Tasmania and was bred by dedicated Calathea collectors to create a combination of richer leaf color and more reliable flowering on shorter stalks.

C. crocata Tassmania grows in 50x50cm domes at full maturity and sends true saffron-coloured flower spikes up above the plant to around 60cm tall.

Because of their darker leaves, they do prefer slightly brighter spots than most Calatheas. Like all dark-leaved plants, their chloroplasts have to do more work to photosynthesise through the darker surface.

2. Calathea Crocata ‘Candela’

Calathea Crocata ‘Candela’ are more compact flowering Calatheas

Source: pflanzmich.de

C. crocata Candela are more compact flowering Calatheas, usually only reaching a leaf height of around 30cm, but with a more upright habit than Tassmania so you get more of a daytime impact from the stalks before they wrap up in the evening.

Their flowers stand taller than the matt foliage on C. crocata Candela, reaching 50-60cm tall in early autumn. Candela are the most common flowering calathea you can find in garden centers too – a clue to the fact they are easier than most to grow from seed.

3. Calathea Crocata ‘Ventura’

Calathea Crocata ‘Ventura’ are the rarest of the flowering calathea

Source: hortipoint.nl

C. crocata Ventura are the rarest of the flowering calathea, and exceptionally hard to find in garden centers, but if you do find one they are incredibly beautiful plants with deep wrinkles in their leaves and a paler, almost pastel red on the underside of their leaves, with flower spikes that reach up to 70cm, and a leaf dome that can be around 60x50cm.

They are harder than most Calathea to make flowers, but well worth the effort for a more natural Calathea crocata, closer to its natural form.

4. Calathea Crocata ‘Maravida’

Calathea Crocata ‘Maravida’ is virtually identical to C. crocata Tassmania, but has a deeper red tone to its flowers, and slightly paler leaves

Source: bol.com

C. crocata Maravida is virtually identical to C. crocata Tassmania, but has a deeper red tone to its flowers, and slightly paler leaves, making it a great addition to a bright living room where you want to increase the botanical freshness.

Maravida benefits from a sphagnum moss mulch to help keep the soil moist, but this does create more work for you as a gardener, as the moss will stay moist when the soil dries out so you need to pay closer attention to watering.


How to Grow Calathea Crocata

How to Grow Calathea Crocata

Calathea crocata benefit from plenty of moisture, high temperatures, partial shade, and regular humidity. Follow our guide below to grow Eternal Flame plants successfully indoors:

Growing Eternal Flame Plant Indoors

Calathea crocata should only be grown indoors. They can cope with outdoor temperatures in summer but will suffer in direct light, so should always be kept in a semi-shaded room away from the window where possible, with regular misting to prevent them from drying out.

While my advice for most Eternal Flame Plant growers is to keep them in bright rooms, out of direct sunlight (i.e. around the corner from a window, or over 1m from the window), C. crocata should be in more shaded conditions than most and can be moved to a brighter spot in autumn which will trick them into flowering in a more natural rhythm.

Make sure to mist Calathea crocata at least once a week in summer, and reduce that to once every two weeks in winter too. This is important for all houseplants, but crucial for these humidity loving tropical plants, as indoor conditions are drier thanks to central heating, air conditions and kitchen appliances that take moisture out of the air and artistically warm the home.


How to Get Calathea Eternal Flame to Flower

How to Get Calathea Eternal Flame to Flower

Calathea crocata have really vivid flowers, and are almost always sold in full bloom, which understandably makes growers think they will reliably flower every year, but it’s important to draw comparisons to a more common houseplant here; the Poinsettia.

Just like Poinsettia, Calathea needs a period of darkness to trigger their flowering. Consider their natural habitat on the forest floor, shrouded by the thick canopy of trees above.

Calathea spend their summers in deep shade, making the most of the dappled light, and conserving energy with darker leaves so they waste less chlorophyll on photosynthesis. Their rhizomatous roots help with this too by storing carbohydrates and sugars for these dark periods.

In autumn when the leaves of deciduous forest trees fall, they are suddenly exposed to light again and they burst back into life with this new energy provided by longer days and brighter sun. 

  1. For most of the year, keep your C. crocata in a shaded room, where it receives filtered and indirect light and keep it misted and warm.
  2. Move your Calathea crocata into a brighter room, avoiding direct sunlight if possible, on the Autumn equinox (when there are 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, and days start to shorten again).
  3. Keep your plants watered when the soil starts to dry out, but reduce misting to once per fortnight.
  4. You should see flower spikes emerging within 1-2 weeks.

How to Propagate Calathea Crocata

Calathea crocata are more reliable germinators than most calathea plants, but as always, they are easier to propagate by division. Below, we’ve put together two step-by-step guides to help you through the process of sowing seeds, or dividing your Calathea:

How to Propagate Calathea Crocata

Source: florapodium.com

Propagating Eternal Flame Plant from Seed

Calathea crocata can be germinated all year round, so provide them with plenty of indirect light, and temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit as a minimum.

Like all calathea seeds, they need high humidity as they would typically begin to germinate in warm tropical springtime.

  1. Fill a seed tray with seed compost, or sieved houseplant compost
  2. Mist the compost (this helps prevent seeds from moving around in step 4)
  3. Thinly sow Calathea crocata seeds (1 seed per 2” avg.)
  4. Lightly cover the seeds with vermiculite or sieved compost and spread out for an even surface.
  5. Water the seed tray evenly, then cover with glass or plastic to keep moisture in or place in a heated propagator with the lid on.
  6. Leave somewhere bright, but out of direct light, and maintain temperatures of 65°F.
  7. You should see young leaves appear in around 3-4 weeks.

Propagating Calathea Crocata from Division

Dividing Calathea crocata is easy as they grow in clear groups of leaves from underground rhizomes. Whenever you have a new set of leaves that’s a potential new plant that you can pot on.

  1. Start by tipping your calathea out of its pot, being careful not to damage the leaves.
  2. Gently pull the roots apart using the natural separations between the top-growth. Use your hands where possible, but prise apart with a garden fork or trowel if the roots are stubborn or pot bound.
  3. Repot any new divisions into houseplant compost with 20% vermiculite and 10% orchid bark for moisture retention (you can comfortably get three plants from a mature C. crocata).

Calathea Crocata Care Guide

Calathea Crocata Care Guide

Source: todaysgardener.com

What Fertilizer to Use

Calathea crocata need a balanced fertilizer. Their flowers are generally supported by their rootstock, so you shouldn’t need any specialist tropical fertilizer. Instead, use a balanced fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of around 10/10/10 which supports overall plant health and in turn, helps them maintain a good rhythm before flowering in autumn. 

Never feed a calathea in winter, and reduce watering to a minimum unless the soil is noticeably dry.

Watering Calathea Crocata

Water Eternal Flame Plants whenever the top inch of soil is dry. They can cope with slightly dry soil but are unforgiving plants if you leave them to dry out completely. Most importantly, don’t forget to mist them. 

Calathea thrive on humidity, so set a reminder in your calendar to mist them at least once a week through summer, and keep them well away from central heating and appliances in autumn and winter.

Pruning Calathea Crocata

Calathea crocata are foliage plants without any main stems. Their leaves grow on petioles, which are simply leaf stalks growing directly from the root (like grasses).

Because of this, any unnecessary pruning can lead to fungal or bacterial infection of the root system, so avoid pruning unless leaves are wilting, disease, or damaged. See our 2022 pruning shears buying guide here.


Calathea Eternal Flame Pests and Diseases

Calathea crocata are stunning indoor perennial plants, grown for their bright saffron coloured

Like any tropical flowering plant, the biggest risk to flowering success is spider mites, which thrive on young shoots and feed on the sap contained in flower buds. Their excretions, called honeydew, can attract ants and other pests that can damage foliage and spread infections between plants. 

To avoid spider mites, make sure to maintain good humidity as they prefer dry conditions. If you notice white silky webs across your calathea leave, wipe them away and spray the plant with diluted neem oil.

For a more direct pesticide of Calathea, use undiluted rubbing alcohol on cotton swabs. This technique will eradicate mealybugs, spider mites, thrips and any other calathea pests in seconds, but should then be rinsed off in the shower to prevent dry spots on leaves. 


Calathea Crocata FAQs

How often does Calathea Crocata flower?

Calathea crocata can flower at any time of year given the right conditions, but they will only flower once every twelve months. Their flowers can last from up to 3 weeks though, so are well worth the effort for the seasonal impact they can bring in late summer and early autumn.

What does Calathea Crocata mean?

Calathea loosely translates as ‘basket plant’ as it was traditionally used as a food source, while its leaves were used to strip from basket weaving fibers. Crocata is typically understood to mean ‘saffron-coloured’ but directly translates as ‘like a crocus’ (the flower that saffron is taken from).

We love Calatheas so much we have a whole list of growing guides for you:


Wrapping Up Our Calathea Crocata Guide

Calathea crocata are stunning indoor perennial plants, grown for their bright saffron coloured but, as you now know, growers need to pay specific attention to the day length and light conditions of their calathea in order to produce flowers.

While propagating calathea from seed might seem like a money-saving option, they are actually one the most affordable Calathea you can buy despite their breath-taking appearance, so next time you go to the garden center, consider buying one as an excuse to experiment with light conditions for you calathea.

About the Author Mabel Vasquez

Mabel has enjoyed a long career as a horticulturist, working in nurseries and greenhouses for many years. Although she loves all plants, Mabel has developed a particular passion over the years for herb gardens and indoor plants. Mabel has since retired from her horticulture career and loves sharing her many years of experience with our audience here at Sumo Gardener.

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