October 22, 2013

Calathea zebrina

The Gorgeous, Velvety
Calathea 'Jungle Velvet' 

The Maranta Family has some real jewels in it, and some of them have made great landscape plants for a subtropical landscape or conservatory. One that has caught my attention recently is Calathea zebrina and its close ally C. warscewiczii. Both are beautiful foliage plants, and even more so when in flower. A great friend in the Kendall neighborhood grows a picture-perfect version of Calathea zebrina, usually called 'Jungle Velvet', with soft, butter-cream colored flowers, set against surreal striped / mottled foliage. The tradition with growing this group of plants is that they like deep shade, and most every book calls for the plants to be strictly understory plants. The plant seen in these pictures is growing in strong morning sunlight in Miami, with direct sun until almost noon. This plant is one of the best-grown I've seen for this species, better than most commercial growers. It is remarkably cold-hardy, re-growing from its tuberous rhizomes even after frost.   

overhead view of
'Jungle Velvet'

In this case of a plant-that-didn't-read-the-care manual, the plant is thriving in strong morning sun, gets watered every few days, and is fertilized with a water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer every week, and has produced long-lasting, sensuously soft flowers, set against some exceptionally patterned foliage. The plants is fairly easy to find in many nurseries throughout the country, courtesy of the tissue-culture business that allowed this extraordinary plant to be mass-produced at low cost.    

close-up of flower
of 'Jungle Velvet'
No matter where you grow the plant, it prefers high humidity, a moisture-retentive medium, and regular watering to keep up with its fast growth. The Maranta family has a lot to offer growers in warm climates, and the leaf patterns are hard to beat. In the case of 'Jungle Velvet', you get beautiful blooms, too. Thanks to Osito for the photos.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens