HOW TO GROW CALATHEA

10-13 deg C/50-55°I-

Several species of calathea are very lovely foliage plants, and particularly good for shady places, but they do need moderate humidity and congenial warmth to retain their beautiful foliage and prevent deterioration. They are native to the West Indies and Tropical America, and closely related to mar-antas. some having been classified under this genus. However, calatheas are usually less tolerant of a cooler, drier en-

vironment. and the leaves, although of similar oval shape, are usually larger. The most delightful species is probably C. makoyana from Brazil, the peacock plant. It has a feathered pattern with a silvery background on the upper surface of the leaf and a suffusion of red below. Seen against the light, the effect is extremely colourful – hence the common name. This species needs a minimum temperature of 1 3 deg C (55 deg F).

Another favourite species for the home is C. ornatii. The dark green leaves have pinkish veining which changes to cream as they mature.

C. lancifolia (syn. C. insignis), the rattlesnake plant, has more elongated and wavy leaves, maroon below and with light and dark green snakelike patterning above. C. zebrina also has longer narrower leaves, with purplish colour below. Its contrasting light and dark green banding gives rise to the common name zebra plant.

Calatheas grow well in any of the usual potting composts, in 10—18cm (4-7in) pots, provided they are never allowed to dry out and are fed when making active growth, as they tend to be greedy plants. Careful attention to humidity is essential. They do well in centrally-heated homes, provided this aspect of culture is not neglected. Too much strong light is liable to cause the foliage to bleach and lose good contrast in variegation. They do particularly well in groups of houseplants. which helps to maintain a humid micro-climate. Chills and draughts soon causes leaf browning. Aphids may attack and in dry conditions so may red spider mites.

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