Calathea Orbifolia – GROWING & Propagation Tips!

potted calathea orbifolia in a small pot

Hailing from Bolivia, the Calathea Orbifolia (now reclassified as Goeppertia Orbifolia) is a beautiful species from the Prayer Plant family. In nature, they grow in the understory of the rainforest, near the forest floor. 🙂

We love their orb-shaped leaves with silver and green stripes. While leaves are large, the plant itself reaches just 3 feet (90cm) tall and wide when mature.

Care-wise, your Calathea Orbifolia is not the easiest to grow. They are sensitive to the cold (below 65 degrees F or 18 degrees C is a no-go), harsh fertilizer salts, and hard water, so always use filtered water and choose a high-quality fertilizer. They enjoy humidity >50% and warm, stable temperatures between 65 – 75 degrees F (18-24 degrees C).

Let’s dive into the details.

Caring for your Calathea Orbifolia (Goeppertia Orbifolia)

Light

Lots of bright, indirect light is wonderful for your understory plant. You want to choose a location that isn’t exposed to long hours of direct light (this will cause pale and scorched leaves!).

For this reason, North or East-facing windowsills are ideal.

Using a grow light is a good option if your home doesn’t receive much natural light. We’d recommend using a light intensity of ~1,000 foot candles.

Water

topview of a calathea orbifolia with large light green and white striped leaves

We’ve noticed that this plant demands less water than we expected, but the exact watering frequency depends on a wide range of factors. Water only when the top 2 inches of soil feels dry.

Your plant has a rhizome root structure, which is prone to root rot when overwatered. So if the topsoil still feels slightly damp, hold off watering and check back in a day or two.

Importantly, use distilled water, rainwater, or tap water that has been left out overnight. High levels of mineral salts will cause the leaves to develop brown edges.

Being a Prayer Plant, leaves move throughout the day, due to a phenomenon, called nyctinasty.

However, if you see your Calathea Orbifolia becoming less animated, this typically means they need more water. Check the soil moisture to confirm.

Humidity

Most Calatheas are picky about humidity – your Calathea Orbifolia is no exception! Being tropical plants, ideal humidity is >50%.

Crispy brown tips (yes, so annoying I know!) may be a result of low humidity.

If you live in a dry climate, check out our tips on how to increase houseplant humidity.

A word of caution (!) – don’t mist the leaves. Calathea Orbifolia is prone to developing bacteria spots from wet foliage. Moisture is a breeding medium for pathogens.

Temperature

It’s important to keep your plant in mild indoor temperatures, between 65 – 75 degrees F (18-24 degrees C). They do not like the cold.

Even a few hours of a cold draft or chill will damage the leaves. Unless you live in the tropics, this sensitive plant is best kept indoors in warm, stable temperatures.

Flowering

Calathea Orbifolia is sought-after for its stunning leaves. While they may flower in the wild, it’s extremely unlikely they will bloom away from their native habitat.

Growth and Size

New Calathea Orbifolia leaves are curled up, and slowly unfurl as they develop. Leaves grow up to 12 inches (30cm), and the plant stands at 3 feet (90cm) tall and wide.

Sorry impatient gardeners, growth rate is slow to moderate, depending on the growing conditions. They aren’t rapid growers!

Our tip? Let offshoots develop into their own vines for a bushy look.

Soil or Growing Medium

This may be a bit tricky. Your plant hates being overwatered but doesn’t do well in soils that are too dry either.

At the same time, good airflow is important, as is a rich potting mix. Remember, forest floors have the richest soils! 🙂

We’ve fallen in love with this potting mix that our Calathea Orbifolia loves:

Mix together for a fluffy, aerated growing medium for your Calathea. Alternatively, LECA is also a good option if you’re open to experimenting with semi-hydroponics.

Fertilizer

In the world of fertilizers, less is more for your Calathea Orbifolia. They are sensitive to harsh fertilizer salts, so fertilize lightly, and choose a gentle, urea-free fertilizer.

We apply a gentle liquid fertilizer at 1/4 strength (not half, 1/4!) once a month during spring, summer, and fall. Hold off fertilizing in winter.

Repotting

Your Calathea Orbifolia doesn’t like to be root-bound. But repotting (or anything that disturbs its roots) really stresses it out.

So, don’t repot until you notice:

  • roots peeking out from the drainage holes or circling above the soil
  • water seems to drain through the pot immediately
  • your plant seems extremely thirsty, and can’t seem to be satisfied
  • stunted growth

When repotting, refresh the potting soil, as nutrients deplete over time. Choose a container that is just 2 inches (5cm) larger, and one that has drainage holes.

Toxicity

Happily, your Calathea Orbifolia, like all Calatheas, are not toxic to animals and humans. 🙂

If you have pets or young children at home, you can also check out Hoyas and Peperomias which are similarly non-toxic.

potted calathea orbifolia in a small pot

Propagation

Propagating this plant isn’t easy.

Successfully propagating through seeds or stem cuttings is difficult. The easiest way is through rhizome division.

  • The best time to propagate is early spring, early in the growing season.
  • As with repotting, propagating stresses your plant out.
  • Don’t propagate if you have a new plant, recently relocated it, or have a young or unestablished plant. Wait until you have a well-established, healthy plant. 🙂

If those warnings didn’t deter you, here’s how to propagate your plant through rhizome division:

  • First, sterilize a clean blade with 70% isopropyl solution.
  • Unpot your Calathea Orbifolia, using your fingers to gently tease out the soil to reveal the rhizomes (underground modified stems). Try not to damage the roots.
  • Using the clean blade, cut off a portion of the tuber. Ensure it includes a few stems and some established roots.
  • Repot the tuber in evenly moist potting mix. Choose a pot that is suitable for the size of the tuber.
  • Place the mother plant back in its pot.
  • Keep the plants in a warm, humid location with plenty of indirect light (and no direct light). If you have a humidifier, place it next to the plants and set at 70%.
  • It may take about a month for roots to establish in the baby plant, and for your mother plant to recover. Your mother plant may show signs of stress in the meantime.
  • New growth indicates your plants have recovered!

Pruning

There’s not a lot of pruning to do for your Calathea Orbifolia, given that the plant has single-leaf stems. However, do cut off damaged leaves, near the base of the main stem.

If your plant has crispy brown edges but the rest of the leaf still looks healthy, you can trim off the edges with clean garden shears.

topview of the calathea orbifolia

Common Pests and Diseases

  • Spider mites and thrips. These are the most common pests that love your plant’s foliage. Apply a neem oil solution repeatedly to eradicate these pests. For a step-by-step guide on how to spot and get rid of spider mites, check out our guide.
  • Rhizome root rot. Overwatering is Enemy #1 for many houseplants. Making sure that you water only when the topsoil is dry is one of the best things you can do for your plant. If you have an overwatered plant on your hands, check out our guide on how to save it.

Troubleshooting

Curling Leaves

Curling leaves are typically a sign that your plant is underwatered, or the air is too dry (not enough humidity).

Drooping Leaves

Underwatering is the most common reason for droopy leaves. Check the soil moisture to confirm.

But remember that your Prayer Plant’s leaves also respond to light throughout the day… so moving leaves are normal! 🙂

Brown Edges

Unfortunately, many things cause brown edges. These include underwatering, low humidity, fertilizer salt build-up (use a gentle, urea-free fertilizer and use it lightly), and mineral salts build-up (if you’re not using purified water).

Go through each one by one to see which could be the culprit.

Yellowing Leaves

Yellowing leaves are a sign of stress. Usually, it signals overwatering. Check the soil to confirm.

Other causes are stress from relocation, repotting, or propagation. Changes in climate and seasons could also cause yellowed leaves.

Frequently Asked Questions

How fast do Calathea Orbifolia grow?

Not very quickly. We consider them slow to moderate growers, depending on their growing conditions.

Where can I buy a Calathea Orbifolia?

We love getting our houseplants from Etsy.

Similar Plants and Varieties

From the same Prayer Plant family, check out the Orbifolia’s close cousin, the Lemon Lime Maranta. These plants all have leaves that move and respond to light throughout the day.

maranta leuconeura lemon lime
Prayer Plant Maranta Leuconeura ‘Lemon Lime’

Other Calatheas we Love

topview of calathea ornata plant, also called pinstripe plant with pink stripes on dark green leaves
The Calathea Ornata with pink pinstripe leaves.

Wrapping Up

The Calathea Orbifolia is known for its stunning large, striped leaves. To keep it happy, provide it with:

  • Bright, indirect light. North or East-facing windowsills are ideal.
  • Warm, stable temperatures between 65 – 75 degrees F (18-24 degrees C).
  • Humidity >50%.
  • A high quality, gentle fertilizer at 1/4 strength, applied monthly during spring to fall.
  • Purified water only when the top 2 inches of soil is dry.
  • Repotting and propagating will cause stress; do this with care and caution.

Love Calatheas? Check out our favorite 14 Calatheas (w/ Photos!) next!

Deborah

Deborah is a plant enthusiast and founder of Gardening Collective.