Calathea Orbifolia is a beautiful houseplant with round striped leaves that is reasonably easy to grow but very sensitive to overwatering and under-watering. In this article, we’ll be sharing a guide to growing Calathera Orbifolia, as well as Calathea Orbifolia propagation.
If you want drama from houseplants, Calathea Orbifolia is one of the most uniquely gifted plants you can buy, and like all types of Calathea, it moves and closes its leaves in the evening when the sun sets, which is a really charming trait that helps to connect you to your plants.
What is a Calathea Orbifolia?
Calathea Orbifolia (Now officially Goeppertia Orbifolia) is known by its scientific name rather than Latin names or common names, so are easy to identify by title, unlike many houseplants that are shrouded in nicknames and colloquial titles.
Calathea is part of the Marantaceae plant family, which are better known as Arrowroots. Their rhizomatous roots are incredibly easy to propagate, but what’s really interesting about these plants is the origin of the name and what it reveals about them.
Namely, you can eat their roots. Arrowroot is a name derived from the Caribbean Island language of Aruwak, from the name ‘aru-aru’ meaning ‘meal of meals’.
Calathea and the rest of the Marantaceae family have historically been used as a reliably starchy food packed with energy and the wonderful flavor of sweetcorn.
Calathea’s Natural Habitat
Calathea, and Calathea Orbifolia, are native to South America and the Caribbean, so are used to tropical rainfall, high humidity, and high temperatures. Calatheas in cultivation, therefore, need to be grown indoors to achieve the right environment.
They also requires regular misting to mimic nature as they are very susceptible to transpiration and tend to transpire in the evening, often with visible drops of water on the ends of their leaves.
Calathea grows best in temperatures between 65°F-80°F (18°C-28°C), which is fine for most indoor spaces and can cope with anything below 60°F (15°C) before they start to show signs of cold damage.
In nature, Calathea grows in climates between 65°F-85°F (18°C-30°C), but the higher end of those temperatures can be damaging or indoor Calathea, which will dry out too much between watering.
How to Grow Calathea Orbifolia
Growing Calathea Orbifolia Indoors
Calathea grows best in bright but indirect light, which imitates their natural habitat best. While many plant labels suggest they are happy in partial shade, it’s slightly misleading as they might cope, but they certainly won’t thrive in most homes in spring, fall or winter.
When grown near a window but not directly in view of the baking afternoon heat, Calatheas will get plenty of light without baking too much. This should be accompanied by regular watering, which we’ll cover in detail later.
How to Grow Calathea Orbifolia Outdoors
While they prefer to live indoors, Calathea can be grown outdoors in warm climates but should be protected from frost, and brought indoors when temperatures drop below 60°F (15°C), especially in areas where winters are wet as the roots can rot over winter and they won’t recover in spring.
It’s best advised to grow outdoor Calathea in pots, so they can be easily moved indoors for winter.
How to Propagate Calathea Orbifolia
The best way to propagate Calathea is from cuttings. Seeds are available online, but germination is unreliable and collecting your own seeds is even harder, as while Calathea are flowering plants, they have a short pollination window, and will only flower when conditions are perfect.
Propagating Calathea Orbifolia from Seeds
If you’re lucky enough to have a batch of Calathea seeds or want to try out sowing Calathea from seed bought online, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of money, and growing some great plants in the process.
To propagate Calathea from seed:
- fill a seed tray with half seed compost and half perlite; sow Calathea seeds thinly across the surface
- cover by sieving 5 mm of compost over the top
- stand in a tray of water until the compost is damp on the surface
- place on a warm windowsill or heated propagator in full sun for 3-5 weeks.
Calathea seeds take a long time to germinate, but be patient. When your seeds have sprouted, keep them lightly but regularly watered until they show true leaves and roots appear at the bottom of the seed tray.
Then gently separate the plants and pot into a good houseplant potting mix.
Calathea Orbifolia Propagation by Cuttings
Growing Calathea Orbifolia from cuttings is incredibly easy. They have rhizomatous roots which are full of energy, so it's simple to divide existing plants without harming the parent plant.
To take Calathea cuttings, tip your Calathea out of its pot, and gently prise a section of root out, trying to damage any of the top growth in the process.
If the roots are tangled, cut through any difficult roots with a clean sharp knife and then pot the cuttings into new compost at the same level they were at in their previous pot. (Learn how to make your own compost here)
Fill the gaps in the original pot, and there you have it, two healthy Calathea Orbifolia for the price of one.
Calathea Orbifolia Care
Goeppertia Orbifolia care is quite simple, and it’s one of the easiest plants to recognise illness in, as early signs are behavioral. As I mentioned earlier, Calathea leaves move with the sunlight, and as the sun sets in the evening the leaves move from flat plates facing the light and stand tall reaching upwards to the ceiling.
Over-watered Calathea or under-watered Calathea will stop moving in the evenings as the leaves become either too heavy or too tight. Because of these habitual signs, you’ll always know when to up their water, or increase/reduce light levels.
Here’s our step-by-step guide to Calathea Orbifolia care:
When to Mulch
Calathea Orbifolia doesn’t benefit from mulch indoors, but if you grow them outdoors in mild climates where the winter temperatures are above 60°F (15°C) you can give them a light mulch of loose garden compost in winter to protect the roots from frost.
Goeppertia Orbifolia Fertilizer
Calathea benefits from general-purpose houseplant fertilizer. Check our favorite 10-10-10 fertilizers, which can be used in any form for Calathea.
While most houseplant fertilizers are targeted at foliage, Calathea responds well to overall plant health by displaying glorious blooms in summer, so by keeping them regularly fertilized in spring, summer, and fall, you’ll increase your chances of their gorgeous cream flowers.
Watering Calathea Orbifolia
Calathea Orbifolia, like all Calathea, loves humidity. Their soil should be kept slightly moist at all times and never allowed to dry completely.
The most important aspect of Calathea watering though is humidity, rather than groundwater. Calathea will forgive you for forgetting to water them, but will quickly show signs of dry leaves if they are not misted regularly or kept in high humidity rooms like showers and bathrooms.
Make sure to find the balance of light and moisture for Calathea, by placing them in bright but indirect sunlight so they don’t develop fungal issues from the humidity.
Repotting and Pruning Calathea Orbifolia
Calathea don’t require any pruning as they grow as single leaves stemming from their rhizomatous roots. When Calathea fill their pots they can be divided and split into several smaller root clumps.
A mature Calathea Orbifolia can be split into at least three new plants. Like all houseplants, any fungal or bacterial infections that have affected leaves on Calathea should be cut off and disposed of to avoid infecting other parts of the plant.
Common Calathea Orbifolia Pests and Diseases
Spider mites & mealybugs affect Calathea just like any other houseplant, but they also suffer from thrips, whitefly and scale in more significant ways than other houseplants.
To deal with any of those problems, the safest way to remove those pests is to dab rubbing alcohol directly onto the insects.
The alcohol will immediately kill them, without harming the plant. Wait 24 hours, then spray the plant with clean water to wash off any residue from the alcohol.
Calathea have a few very specific diseases, but most are the same as any other tropical plant grown in cultivation in the Northern hemisphere and are usually caused by erratic indoor temperature changes and artificially balanced humidity.
In the section below, we’ll explore each common Calathea disease in detail:
Calathea leaf spot is a bacterial problem, most commonly caused by leaf damage. When the leaves are damaged they open up small tears in the leaf surface which allows bacteria to enter. The leaf spots are usually dry brown patches with yellowish edges.
Calathea leaf spot is usually caused by insects like spider mites that feed on cellulose in the leaves and cause microscopic damage, but if you see a leaf spot without any signs of pests, it is most likely the result of tap water.
The chemicals in tap water can burn the leaves and cause unnoticeable damage that grows as bacteria takes hold. Leaves won’t recover from leaf spot to full vigor, but affected leaves can be cut back to 1” above the ground and they will be replaced by new shoots.
Root Rot in Calathea
Root rot is caused by standing water. Standing water eventually turns stagnant, and if you water your Calathea before it has time to drink its last feed it will build up excess in the soil.
This quickly causes blackened roots with potential fungal infections hosted in the soil. The first signs will be yellowing and drooping leaves and sudden slower growth.
If you notice these signs, carefully take the Calathea root ball out of its pot, and check if the roots are black. If there are any black roots, cut them off and cut back an extra inch of root beyond the black point to be safe.
Shake the soil off, wash the entire root ball, then gently re-pot by standing in a pot and shaking the soil back around the roots. Recovery can be slow, but your plant will eventually look at its best again.
Blight and Mildew
Calathea blight and mildew have become much more common in recent years, and like all blights and mildews they are fungal diseases caused by humidity and spread by insects and wind.
In my view, the rise in blight in cultivated Calathea is less to do with the quality of plants being sold, and more to do with the guidance on the plant labels.
Because they are sold as shady room plants, they are not receiving enough light to dry out between mistings, and therefore host the perfect conditions for fungal reproduction.
Prevent Calathea blight by keeping them in a warm bright room, and only misting if the leaves are dry to touch.
Common Problems &Tips for Growing Calathea Orbifolia
The most common problems faced by Calathea Orbifolia growers are leaf burn due to over-exposure to sunlight, and leaf curl caused by over-watering and too little light.
Calathea Orbifolia are sold as shady room plants, but this is a myth. They should be placed in bright light, but not full sun. The ideal position for a Calathea is just over 3ft away from a south facing window, or 1ft from an East or West facing window that gets plenty of light.
In those conditions they can adequately evaporate excess moisture without damping off, while also avoiding baking sunlight.
Goeppertia Orbifolia FAQs
Why is a Calathea called a prayer plant?
Calathea earned the name prayer plant due to their beautiful and charming habit of closing their leaves towards the sky at night, which reminded early plant hunters of hands being brought together in an act of worship.
Can you eat Calathea Orbifolia roots?
Calathea Orbifolia roots are edible, and have a distinctive sweetcorn flavor, but why you want to eat them I’m not sure. They are beautiful plants with far more benefits for your mental health than your gut health.
Does Calathea Orbifolia like shade?
Despite popular opinion, Calathea Orbifolia do not like shade. They are plants from bright but humid countries, and regulate their moisture levels through humidity, so while they are easy to care for and it’s possible to keep them alive in shady rooms, they will only ever reach their potential in bright but indirect light.
Should I mist Calathea Orbifolia?
Calathea Orbifolia should be regularly misted, up to twice a week in warm conditions, as they are from naturally humid environments and easily transpire from their leaves. To maintain healthy foliage you can add foliar feeds to your Caslathea misting routine.
Is Calathea Orbifolia safe for pets?
Calathea Orbifolia leaves are considered to be safe for pets, including cats and dogs as they have very low toxicity levels. If leaves are eaten in high enough quantities it can cause stomach upsets and indigestion.
Can't get enough of the calathea cultivar? See more calathea growing guides below:
Wrapping Up Our Calathea Orbifolia Guide
Calathea Orbifolia are truly amazing plants, with an unique beauty deserving of the prayer plant title that covers the wider Calathea genus.
Their care is relatively simple but be careful not to take the plant labels that come with Calathea orbifolia for granted, and do some extra digging to understand their best location depending on exactly where you are in the world.
Our Calathea Orbifolia guide covers everything from sunlight to the unlikely event of cooking their roots, so I’m pretty sure we’ve earned the title of the ultimate guide to growing calathea orbifolia.