Anyone looking for a unique, beautiful houseplant has probably at least considered a Calathea orbifolia. These plants are not only wonderfully lush, with large, broad leaves, but also feature a striking green and silver color pattern, which makes them an attractive addition to any room.
However, like all plants, the orbifolia has some specific care needs that must be met in order for the plant to thrive.
The Calathea orbifolia is native to Bolivia. This plant, as the name suggests, is a member of the Calathea genus, which are commonly referred to as prayer plants.
Prayer plants feature large, beautifully patterned leaves. Some prayer plants may flower, although the orbifolia almost never does. At night, the leaves of these plants will gently fold up, and the plant will open again in the morning.
Calathea orbifolia thrive at mild room temperatures of 65-75 degrees F and is happiest with indirect light, well-drained soil, and fertilized during the growing season.
Characteristics of the Calathea Orbifolia
The orbifolia is a large plant full grown. The broad, oval leaves can grow to between 8 and 12 inches in length, while the plant itself can grow to between two and a half to three feet tall.
The foliage of the plant is dense, giving it a lush appearance. The leaves are dark green with silver bands running diagonally from the center. The leaves grow from the center of the plant, and each is on its own sturdy stem.
One of the most interesting things about Calathea plants, and the orbifolia in particular, is that the leaves move around, seeking sunlight, throughout the day.
Anyone who keeps this plant may notice that the plant has gradually shifted its positioning, giving it a completely different appearance from one hour to the next.
Calathea Orbifolia Care Requirements
Orbifolia plants are not overly difficult to keep, but they do have very specific needs, and when these needs are not met, the plant can suffer.
In particular, orbifolias are tropical plants and require a tropical environment in order to survive. When kept indoors or in a drier or cooler climate, a tropical setting will need to be created in order to bring out the best characteristics of the plant.
Like many prayer plants, the orbifolia prefers partial shade when it comes to lighting. In the wild, these plants would be exposed to filtered sunlight, trickling down through layers of tree leaves.
This should be mimicked as closely as possible when keeping them in a pot. If they are exposed to direct sunlight, it should be gentle morning light and should only last for a couple of hours. Too much sunlight can cause the leaves of the plant to fade and can even cause burned edges.
The correct amount of water is crucial when it comes to caring for an orbifolia. To mimic a tropical environment, these plants should be kept in soil that’s almost always moist. If the top layer of soil is dry, owners will know that it’s time to water the plant again.
When watering, it’s best to drench the soil thoroughly until water runs from the drainage holes.
However, it’s also important that orbifolias are not over-watered and that the soil doesn’t become soggy. These plants have rhizomes, and they’re quite susceptible to root rot, which is difficult to treat or reverse.
Only water the plant when the top soil layer has dried out, and ensure that the plant does not sit in a puddle of excess water. The soil the orbifolia is planted in should also be well-draining, and, although it should retain some moisture, should never become waterlogged.
Soil choice is also very important when it comes to supporting a healthy orbifolia plant. As mentioned above, the soil should retain moisture but also drain well.
Peat-based potting soil is often a good choice for these plants, as the peat contains a variety of natural, essential nutrients. Mixing two parts of potting soil with one part orchid bark and one part perlite will create a looser, better draining mixture for the calathea orbifolia.
Peat can sometimes compact a bit too much, so it can be replaced with a looser, more airy substitute, such as coco coir. All of these ingredients will mimic the soil the plant would be found in naturally and can also help to deliver the right amount of nutrients and moisture.
Try to avoid potting soils that contain chemical fertilizers. The sensitive roots of the orbifolia are often too delicate for synthetic chemicals and can be easily damaged. If additional nutrients are required, organic compost is an excellent option.
Ideal Locations and Temperatures
Because they’re tropical plants, orbifolias thrive in jungle conditions. They prefer warm temperatures and humid air. In the United States, they do well outdoors in hardiness zones 9b through 11.
However, they’re mostly grown indoors, where they can be kept at a steady temperature. These plants will always need to be kept between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Orbifolias can’t tolerate the cold, so if they’re kept outside, they must be moved inside during the colder months or any time the temperature dips below 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Inside, they should be kept away from air conditioning vents or drafty windows or doors. If the plant’s leaves begin to curl at the edges, the plant is most likely too warm. If the leaves droop, the plant is probably cold.
An orbifolia often works well in a bathroom or kitchen, as these places tend to be warm, humid, and often feature filtered sunlight.
Water Quality and Humidity Needs
Humidity is another key factor to consider when keeping an orbifolia. These plants do not do well in dry conditions. They prefer a humidity level of 50% or higher. There are several ways to raise the immediate humidity level around the plant. For example, the plant can be kept in a pebble tray.
The pot will sit on the pebbles, and water can be poured halfway up the pebbles. Plants can also be grouped somewhat close together to raise humidity and encourage the transfer of moisture. A humidifier can also be used if necessary. To keep track of the humidity level, you can purchase a small hygrometer to measure the humidity of the air around the plant.
In addition to a pebble tray or humidifier, filtered water can also be gently misted onto the plant’s leaves once a day. The leaves can also be wiped with a damp cloth. This helps to keep the leaves clean and free of dust while also adding a bit more moisture.
These plants can also be quite sensitive about additives in water, including chlorine and salts. For this reason, it’s best to use purified or distilled water for both misting and watering. One sign that the plant is reacting negatively to the water quality is a change in the color of the leaves.
Offering the Calathea orbifolia the correct amount of nutrients is important, but these plants generally don’t require too much feeding.
Over-fertilizing can also damage the plant’s roots, so it’s important to maintain a balance. When fertilizing, use only organic fertilizer. The fertilizer should be designed for houseplants and should contain a balance of nutrients.
Dilute any fertilizer to 1/4 strength, and use the fertilizer once a month. Orbifolias should only be fed during the growing season, which occurs during the spring and summer. During the fall and winter, they should not be given any fertilizer at all.
In order to ensure that the soil doesn’t become too loaded with fertilizer, it’s a good idea to either thoroughly flush the soil several times a year with water or replace the soil mixture altogether. If you’re using orchid bark, you may need to replace the soil anyway, as orchid bark breaks down over time.
However, don’t repot the plant too often. Re-potting can disrupt the plant, causing stress. It’s best to only repot when the plant has become root-bound or has grown too small for the current planter, or when the orchid bark has broken down and must be replaced.
Additional Tips For Success with Orbifolias:
Planting and Pot Requirements
Choosing the correct pot can make a world of difference for an orbifolia. Terra cotta or clay pots may look nicer, but they increase the speed at which water evaporates from the soil. This can damage the orbifolia, particularly in climates that are already dry. Instead, it’s best to plant an orbifolia in a plastic pot.
The plastic pot can then be placed in a more decorative pot for display. Between the plastic pot and the decorative pot, there should be a thin layer of pebbles. These pebbles, placed at the bottom of the decorative pot, will help to increase airflow and allow for better drainage.
Orbifolias require little pruning. Occasionally, old leaves may turn yellow and droop, and these can be gently snipped away with a clean, sharp pair of kitchen scissors or pruning shears.
Propagating orbifolia plants can be quite challenging, but it’s commonly done, as this plant is often difficult to find. Seeds can be finicky and often do not grow, and cuttings from this plant often fail to root. For that reason, dividing the rhizome of the plant is generally considered to be the most successful propagation method.
To divide the plant, unpot it and loosen the soil enough to expose the rhizome. Using a clean, sharp knife, cut away a small section of the rhizome. This section will need to include at least one stem with a healthy leaf attached and some of the roots or it won’t thrive or root on its own.
The smaller section of the plant can be repotted. It should be kept warm and moist. You can even cover the plant with plastic to ensure it remains moist. When new growth develops, uncover the young plant.
Splitting and repotting orbifolias can cause stress to both the old and new plants. For this reason, it’s important to keep a close eye on both plants after completing the process.
Keep the plants warm and moist and don’t expose them to direct sunlight. You will need to mist the plants frequently as well, particularly the new plant, in order to ensure it’s getting the correct amount of moisture.
Re-planting of orbifolias should only be done occasionally, as the process can stress the plants, which can lead to illnesses. Usually, these plants will only need to be repotted about once every two years or so. When re-planting, choose a pot that’s about 2 inches larger in diameter than the previous pot.
A pot that’s too big will allow for pockets of excess moisture where the plant’s roots can’t reach, and this can lead to mold or root rot.
Gently remove the plant and, if necessary, loosen the roots gently. You can also gently trim away any roots with signs of root rot, such as black spots or mushy, spongy areas. Repot the plant in fresh soil and water it thoroughly.
Keep an eye on the plant over the next couple of weeks to make sure that it’s handled the re-planting well. Keep the plant in a warm, humid area out of direct sunlight to make the transition to the new pot as stress-free as possible.
Diseases and Pests
Because it must be kept moist and should remain in a warm, humid environment, the orbifolia is prone to a number of pest and fungal issues.
Powdery mildew and leaf-spot are common ailments and are generally caused by over-watering or improper drainage. Letting the top 1 to 2 inches of soil dry completely between waterings can help to cut down on the occurrence of fungal issues.
Root rot is also very common with this plant and is again caused by over-watered, soggy soil. Roots affected by rot will be black and mushy to the touch. These roots should be cut away with a clean pair of pruning shears, and the plant should be re-potted in fresh, well-draining soil.
Insects are also a problem caused by the humidity the plant thrives in. To deter pests such as thrips, aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies, you can sprinkle a layer of sand over the top of the soil. The sand will dry out more quickly than the soil, deterring insects.
Diatomaceous earth can also be mixed into the topsoil. Diatomaceous earth only works when dry, so you’ll need to sprinkle a new layer on after each watering. If there is already an insect infestation present, neem oil or an organic insecticidal soap can be sprayed on the plant.
The orbifolia is non-toxic to humans, cats, and dogs, so you won’t need to worry if your pets tend to nibble at leaves. However, it’s still best to keep this plant out of reach, as chewed leaves can cause stress to the plant.
FAQs of the Calathea Orbifolia
Q: How often do you water Calathea orbifolia?
Generally, an orbifolia plant will need to be watered once a week. During the growing season, which is the spring and summer, or when it’s drier or warmer out, you may need to water the plant twice a week. When it comes to watering this plant, however, it’s best to avoid a strict schedule. Instead, test the soil every few days. If the top 1 or 2 inches have dried out, it’s probably time to water again.
Q: Should I mist my Calathea?
Calatheas should definitely be misted from time to time, particularly if the plant is being kept in an area with a lower humidity level. Misting helps to raise the humidity level of the air around the plant. It also gives the plant a chance to draw in moisture through its leaves.
Q: Will a Calathea thrive in low light?
Although they thrive in filtered, indirect, or medium light, Calatheas, including the orbifolia variety, do not do well in low light. They should receive at least some indirect or filtered sunlight during the day.
Q: Why are my Calathea leaves curling up?
Calatheas, including orbifolias, have leaves that are quite active. The leaves move around a good deal, chasing the rays of the sun. They also fold upwards at night. If you notice the leaves of your orbifolia curling in during the evening, you can rest assured that this is perfectly normal, and the plant is healthy.
However, if the edges of the leaves begin to curl, and don’t uncurl during the day, this may be a sign that the plant is too warm or that the leaves are sunburned. Move the plant to a slightly cooler area, below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and ensure that it’s not in direct sunlight. A north- or east-facing window is ideal.
Q: Why are the leaves on my orbifolia drooping?
Drooping leaves are usually a sign that the plant is too cold. Move the plant to an area that is at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit and see if the leaves perk up.
Drooping leaves can also indicate either too much or too little watering. If the soil is quite dry, you may need to increase how frequently or how much you water. If the soil is damp, your plant may be suffering from root rot.
Q: My orbifolia looks wilted after re-planting. Is this normal?
Orbifolias don’t like to be moved or repotted, so it’s normal for a plant to look wilted or sick after re-planting. Give the plant time to rest after repotting. Keep it in a warm, humid area, and don’t touch it, prune it, or try to move it. The plant should perk up in a few days.
Q: How do I revive an orbifolia that seems to be dying?
How to save a dying plant comes down to what’s making the plant sick to begin with. First, check the soil. If it’s too moist or not moist enough, you may need to adjust your watering frequency. If you suspect the plant has root rot, you may need to repot it.
Orbifolias will also begin to grow less and may appear sickly if they’re root-bound. In this case, the plant will also need to be re-planted into a slightly larger pot.
You should also check for pests or fungal infections. Once you’ve identified the cause of the illness, you can take steps to treat it and prevent it from happening again.
Q: Why are my orbifolia’s leaves yellow?
Yellow leaves are usually a sign of improper watering. Often, they indicate too much moisture, but you’ll need to check the soil to figure out what your plant needs. If there are many discolored leaves, it can be a sign that root rot has set in.
Q: Why are my Calathea orbifolia’s leaves brown?
Brown spots or brown edges on an orbifolia’s leaves usually indicate underwatering. Check the soil and make sure that it’s moist enough. You may also want to mist the plant’s leaves more often.
Generally, an orbifolia can be misted or wiped down with a damp cloth every day. This helps to keep the leaves clean and gives them an opportunity to take in water. It also increases the air humidity.
Brown spots can also be an indication of an insect problem. Look for tiny flying bugs around the plant or pot. The bugs might also appear as small, dark specks on the undersides of the leaves. These bugs, called thrips, suck the liquids from plant leaves, leaving behind brown spots, so steps should be taken to get rid of them if they appear.