Eternal Flame – Calathea crocata

The Eternal Flame is a relative new-comer among flowering house plants. It is a striking plant that is nevertheless generally undemanding.

This is a tropical plant, native to Brazil. Of the 150 Calathea varieties, it is one of a few that produce attractive flowers — the majority are grown for their foliage.

The upper sides of the Eternal Flame’s leaves are a metallic dark green with purple hues; the undersides are bronze-purple. As in most other varieties they have a puckered texture.

The flower spikes grow at the top of tall stems. The true flowers are orange-yellow with rose-red sepals, and are tubular in shape. They are almost hidden among the bright yellow-orange bracts, which form the most visible part of the flower head.

Because it is a purely tropical plant it needs an even climate throughout the year. It will do well indoors, but needs high levels of humidity around the leaves. Place it inside a shallow outer pot, or on a large saucer, filled with moist pebbles, or group it with other plants to keep the humidity high.

Give plenty of light— a partially shaded position is ideal—and preferably soft water. You can use rain water, or add a teaspoon of citric acid to hard water to soften it.Eternal Flame - Calathea crocata

Tropical plants will not tolerate the cold, so if you keep your plant in a window, move it to a position a little away from the window in winter. Rapid changes in temperature are also harmful, so if you buy your plant in winter, protect it against the cold when you take it home.

The Eternal Flame will grow to a height and spread of about 30cm (12in). The leaves, produced on long stems, are 19-23cm (7-9in) in length.

Display ideas

You may want to display your plant on its own while it is in flower, but it will fit in well as one of a group of plants needing similar conditions. Some of those which would be ideal include Maranta leuconeura, the Prayer Plant, and other Maranta varieties.

Getting plants to flower

To produce flowers, the Eternal Flame must have a period in which the days are short and the nights long. Produce these conditions artificially in your home by the following method after a period of good light and good growth. The best time to start this is in mid-August.

Cover the plant with a black polythene bag at 6 pm. Take it off next morning at 8 am. This gives the plant a day length of 10 hours and a night of 14 hours. Continue daily until the first buds appear, sometime in September.

Propagation

Divide the thickened tuberous crowns of the roots when you repot the plant in late June. Try to ensure that each piece has some leaves and sturdy roots. Plant tubers 5-8cm (2-3in) deep in a pot filled with a peat-based potting compost. Keep the compost slightly moist and the temperature at 16-18°C (61-65°F).

Plant Problems

Red spider mites can be a problem in dry indoor conditions. Check leaves and stems regularly, as these pests can be difficult to spot. A magnifying glass will help.

Treatment: If an attack is discovered in time it may be possible to remove the pests by rinsing off or wiping the leaves and stems with a damp sponge. Use an insecticide for severe attacks. Raise the humidity around the plant to deter further attacks.

The leaves wither at the edges if there is too much calcium in the water, the air is too dry, or watering is irregular.

Treatment: Water regularly with soft water and increase the humidity around the plant. Cut away withered leaves at the base.

PLANT CARE

This is quite an easy plant to care for as long as you follow the instructions given. Trim away any brown leaf edges with sharp scissors and remove unattractive leaves at the base.

Potting: Repot in late June. Use a soil-based potting compost to which you have added 25 per cent peat moss. Provide good drainage.

Water moderately in summer and winter with tepid water. Use rain water if the water in your area is hard. Keep the compost constantly moist and drain away excess water.

Feeding: Feed every two weeks during the growing period with a standard liquid fertilizer diluted to one-quarter of its normal strength.

GROWING CONDITIONS

  • Light: It will not tolerate direct sun, so keep in a partially-shaded position.
  • Temperature: This plant will do well in normal room temperatures in both summer and winter, as long as you maintain high levels of humidity. It will not tolerate any rapid changes in temperature.

When to buy

  • Buy when the plant is in flower, which is usually in summer or autumn. Nurseries specializing in tropical plants are the best source.
  • Choose a plant with shiny green leaves and lots of flower buds.
  • Properly cared for, your plant will live for many years.
  • Despite its exotic appearance, the Eternal Flame is a house plant that is fairly easy to grow. It is admired as much for its lustrous metallic-green foliage as it is for its flowers.

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