Most people who grow Calatheas are interested in their vividly patterned leaves rather than their flowers, so it can be hard to find information about when, why, and how these plants bloom. Some houseplant owners are surprised to find that their prized Pinstripe Plant can flower at all. If you’re curious about your Calathea’s blooms, you’ve come to the right place.
Calatheas rarely bloom when grown as houseplants, but they can flower under the right circumstances. To encourage yours, provide plenty of humidity and light – but not so much direct sun that the leaves get scorched. Fertilizer can also help Calatheas bloom, though a light touch is best because their roots are quite vulnerable to fertilizer burn.
Unlike some plants, Calatheas bloom primarily when they’re healthy, not as a stress reaction. However, the process does divert energy away from leaf production. If you’re more interested in foliage than flowers, you may want to snip off any blooms as they show up.
What Are Calathea Flowers Like?
Although houseplant owners prize Calatheas for their foliage, it’s their blooms that give them their name: Calathea comes from the Latin word calathus, meaning “basket.” It refers to the plant’s inflorescence, which resembles a basket piled high with delicate petals.
Though it’s often referred to as a flower, the inflorescence is actually a specialized leaf. The true flowers are smaller growths that sprout from the inflorescence. Calatheas can remain in bloom longer than many other houseplants, with each inflorescence persisting for 2-3 months – though the individual flowers often wilt after a day or so.
There are more than 300 different types of Calathea, and the appearance of their blooms varies between species. We’ll take a look at a few of the most popular varieties.
This species includes a number of popular cultivars, including the Medallion and the Dottie, both of which display elaborate feathery patterns on their leaves. The inflorescences typically appear as pale green cones that resemble hop leaves, with small white flowers emerging from between the folds.
Known as the Peacock Plant or the Cathedral Window Calathea, this species produces foliage with a bold spots-and-stripes motif. Its inflorescence takes the shape of a cluster of green tubes that sprout tiny, white, trumpet-shaped blossoms.
Also called the Freddie, this plant is known for its tolerance of low-light conditions. It blooms a bit more readily than some of its cousins, producing silky white flowers with large and droopy petals. These blossoms give off a pleasant, citrusy fragrance.
Growers prize the Furry Feather Calathea for its texture rather than its pattern; its leaves are a bit dull to look at, but they’re covered in soft, downy hairs. When it flowers, C. rufibarba pushes out clusters of slender yellow blossoms from a thistle-shaped orange inflorescence.
This is another soft-textured Calathea, but with a bit more visual pizazz than C. rufibarba. Its foliage sports a pale green branching pattern along the central veins, against a backdrop of green so dark it’s nearly black. The blooms are quite beautiful, unfolding in a spiraling upturned cone of creamy white petals.
Famous for its vivid white variegation and infamous for its frailty, the White Fusion Calathea ranks among the most challenging houseplants to care for. If you can keep yours happy enough to send up one of its gauzy white blooms, we should probably be asking you for advice.
Commonly called the Eternal Flame, this is the one Calathea better known for its flowers than its leaves. It produces bright orange inflorescences that rise up above the dark foliage on tall, straight stalks.
How to Encourage a Calathea to Bloom
Promoting flowering in your Peacock Plant is mostly about keeping it in tip-top shape. An in-depth guide to Calathea care is beyond the scope of this article, but we can offer a few general pointers:
- Plant it in a growing medium with good drainage. A mix of 20% African Violet potting soil, 40% coarse perlite, and 40% coconut coir should do nicely. (More on ideal soil for Calatheas here.)
- Keep the soil around your Calathea’s roots damp but not soggy. That means watering thoroughly, but only when the top two inches of the potting mix have dried out. You can also test the area near the roots directly with a moisture meter.
- Water with distilled or filtered water, not from the tap. Calatheas are sensitive to the minerals and other chemicals that are often found in tap water.
- Humidity is crucial – don’t let it go below 60% if you can avoid it. A humidifier is the best way to keep moisture levels high, but grouping plants together and keeping them on pebble trays also helps.
- Make sure the plant’s environment remains consistently warm, in the 65-80F range, with no sharp drops or spikes in temperature.
There are two factors that deserve special attention when you’re trying to get your Calathea to flower:
Factor 1: Sunlight
Many Calathea owners, knowing that these plants are sensitive to direct sun, overcompensate by keeping them in an environment that’s too dim. Plants need energy to flower, and the sun is their sole source of fuel. Though you don’t want a Calathea to sit in direct sun all day, you should give it plenty of bright, indirect light if you’re hoping for blooms.
An east-facing windowsill is typically the best location for flowering. That will give your Calathea a few hours of sun during the coolest part of the day, when it’s best-equipped to handle it. A spot 4-6 feet from a south-facing window is another good option.
Factor 2: Nutrition
Supplementing your Calathea with a bit of fertilizer may also help it bloom. This requires care, however – these plants have delicate roots that can easily be damaged if you provide more fertilizer than they can handle.
Fertilize only during the warm months when your Calathea is actively growing, and only if you’re sure that it’s getting enough water, humidity, and sunlight. Give it a dose of liquid fertilizer with a 3:1:2 NPK ratio once per month. Stop this regimen if you notice any signs of damage, such as browning tips and edges. It’s also a good idea to flush the pot thoroughly with distilled water every two months, washing out any excess minerals left behind by the fertilizer.
Should You Let Your Calathea Flower?
For some Calathea owners, flowers are a distraction at best. If you’re only interested in your plant for its vivid foliage, what should you do when it starts to sprout an inflorescence? Should you trim the unwanted bloom away, or simply let your plant do its thing?
Some plants bloom when they feel threatened by unwelcome environmental conditions – they’re trying to seed the next generation before they die. Fortunately, that’s not the case with Calatheas. These plants generally won’t flower unless they’re in good health.
That said, creating an inflorescence takes energy that your plant might otherwise put into new leaves and stems. If you’re hoping your Calathea will get bigger and bushier, you might want to remove the bloom so that the plant can focus on growth.
And it’s always helpful to prune away flowers or inflorescences that have wilted – even half-dead flowers will be taking an energy tax as long as they remain on your Calathea.
How to Trim Your Calathea’s Flowers
If you’re happy to have your Calathea blooming and you simply want to remove dead flowers, you can usually just pinch them off of the inflorescence once they shrivel up. To remove an entire bloom, you’re better off using pruning shears.
Disinfect the blades to avoid giving your plant an infection. You can wipe them down with a rag dipped in a 10% bleach solution or some isopropyl alcohol from your medicine cabinet. Then snip the stalk holding the inflorescence as close to the soil as possible. Get it in one clean cut if you can.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t get your Calathea to flower. They’re fussy, unpredictable houseplants under the best of circumstances. But with proper care – and a little bit of luck – your Calathea might surprise you with one of its delicate, beautiful blooms.