Calatheas are part of the Marantaceae, or prayer plant, family and are native to tropical South America. Despite dozens of species, only a few are commonly cultivated. In most parts of the country, these plants, when potted, can only be grown indoors because they require high humidity and cannot tolerate cool, damp conditions, strong drafts or direct sunshine. The species within the plant family are grown for their foliage. They do not need to be re-potted unless the plant becomes top heavy or the roots protrude from pot drainage holes. Water calatheas with rain water or soft bottled water.
Calathea zebrina, which is known as the zebra plant, comes from Brazil and grows as a rosette. Its leaves can grow to 2 feet long and the plant can grow to 3 feet high. The name comes from the alternating bands of light and dark green on the leaves. Zebra plants will not tolerate temperatures of less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
Calathea insignis is better known as the rattlesnake plant. It is grown for its erect, tapered leaves that grow to 20 inches long. They possess maroon undersides and wavy edges. The leaves have a curious pattern of dark green ovals on a yellowish green background on the top side. Rattlesnake plants can reach 50 inches in height and can form dense shrubs. They do not tolerate strong air drafts and will rapidly dry out if not kept in humid conditions.
Commonly known as the peacock plant, Calathea makoyana is a common indoor species. It grows as a rosette up to 3 feet tall. The oval leaves have dark green blotches or stripes on a pale green background and have maroon undersides. Peacock plants need low light conditions and temperatures no lower than 60 degrees F.
Among the other Calathea species sold as houseplants, Calathea warscewiczii is a Central American species that can grow to 3 feet tall. It has long oval leaves with light green veins. It can tolerate a certain amount of morning and late day sunshine. Calathea ornata is similar, but its leaves are more oval in shape and possess a fish bone pattern of pale and dark green stripes. The plant grows larger than Calathea warscewiczii.