The peacock plant

Calathea. / Flickr
  • Calathea, a tropical jungle plant from Brazil and Peru, has striking foliage often exotically patterned

At certain times of the year garden centres seem to get flooded with one type of plant that you can then find everywhere you look. At the moment it is the turn of Calathea, a tropical plant found growing on the floor of the jungle in tropical regions such as Brazil and Peru.

It is probably one of the most striking foliage plants around with over 300 different types with a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, the majority of which are deep purple on the underside providing a wonderful contrast to the shades of green on the top. Many are man-made hybrids and not found in the wild.

Usually grown as a house or office plant, Calathea, also called cathedral, peacock, zebra, rattlesnake and prayer plant, is not the easiest to look after. It needs light, but not direct sunlight, and lots of humidity. At this time of year it can be grown outside in a north facing position and shaded from direct sun.

It will need to be misted regularly or stood on a tray of wet pebbles to increase the moisture in the air around it. Although it must be kept moist, it must not be allowed to sit in water. Calathea should be watered when the surface of the soil feels dry; in winter watering should be reduced.

Under ideal situations Calathea will flower although the flowers of many species are insignificant. One species that is commonly grown for the flowers is C. crocata which will produce a large number of attractive orange blooms.

Calathea is quite a rapid grower and it may be necessary to repot it in fresh compost every spring. This is an ideal opportunity to divide it up into smaller pieces and pot them on.

Calathea is not classed as poisonous to humans or pets although it's probably not a good idea to ingest it.