Calathea crocata boasts both beautiful, decorative foliage and stunning orange flowers.
Eternal Flame plants, also known as saffron-coloured calatheas, have a reputation for being difficult to care for. That said, simply understanding a few of this plant’s requirements will help you to create the perfect conditions in which it will flourish. Read on to find out about its natural habitat and how you can mimic this environment in your home to ensure your Calathea crocata thrives. Once you know how to take care of this tropical plant, it will make a beautiful addition to your home.
Calathea crocata: origin and characteristics
Like many species within the Marantaceae family, Eternal Flame plants (Calathea crocata syn. Goeppertia crocata) are native to tropical America, specifically to the rainforests of Brazil. These clump-forming, evergreen perennials can grow up to 60cm tall and 40cm wide. Alongside their impressive orange flowers, these plants also have striking foliage. Calathea crocata leaves are elliptic, slightly ridged, and deep green on the upper side with crimson-purple shades on the underside. As with other Calathea species, Calathea crocata leaves fold up at night-time and open again when the sun comes up. For this reason, Calatheas are collectively known as prayer plants.
Fact: many rainforest plants, especially those found on the forest floor, have leaves with purple tones on the underside. This allows the plant to optimise how it captures sunlight, as the dark underside helps to reflect light back into the leaf.
It is the gorgeous orange flowers of Calathea crocata that give the plant its nicknames, Eternal Flame and saffron-coloured calathea. Whilst they are referred to as flowers, the most visible part of each inflorescence is in fact a modified leaf called a bract. The smaller, true flowers emerge from the centre of each inflorescence. Each tubular inflorescence sits atop long stalks, or peduncles, reaching a height just above the foliage.
How often does a Calathea crocata flower? In the right growing conditions and given the right care, Eternal Flame plants should reward you with flowers throughout the spring and summer, with blooms lasting for up to 3 months.
Our favourite Calathea crocata varieties
Alongside the classic Calathea crocata, there are several varieties which differ slightly in colour. Here is an overview of some of the most notable varieties:
- Calathea crocata ‘Tassmania’ is a very popular variety, with its lush foliage and quintessential, flame-like blooms.
- Calathea crocata ‘Candela’ is another common variety with features typical of the Calathea crocata species.
- Calathea crocata ‘Ventura’ bears lighter-coloured, yellow flowers.
- Calathea crocata ‘Afora’ is a little different from other varieties, with its bi-coloured, green lace inflorescences.
- Calathea crocata ‘Bicajoux’ produces charming pink flowers.
Growing Calathea crocata
Saffron-coloured calatheas are happiest in humid, stable environments and do not tolerate extreme temperature fluctuations. They like to be kept warm, between 18 °C and 30 °C, and must be kept away from a draft or air conditioning. In the UK, they will not survive outdoors for prolonged periods, so consider them a welcome addition to your indoor space!
If the air is too dry, Eternal Flame plants will start to get brown spots on their leaves. Here are a few ways you can help create a humid climate for your plant:
- Choose a room with high humidity. If your bathroom gets enough light, this is the best option for your Eternal Flame plant.
- Sit your pot on top of a tray filled with some pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, it provides humidity for the plant. Keep the water topped up to about half the height of the pebbles.
- Misting 2 – 3 times a week is also good practice, although not as effective as creating a stable humid environment. When misting, use room temperature water, rather than cold water, and avoid misting the flowers.
As they are well-adapted to growing under the dappled light of the rainforest canopy, Calathea crocata prefer bright but indirect sunlight. If the sun is too strong, the leaves will scorch or fade. Close to an east or west facing window is ideal.
Eternal Flame plants require a soil that resembles that of the tropical forest floor. Opt for a nutrient-rich, humus-rich, well-draining soil. Our Plantura Organic All-Purpose Compost, for example, is an excellent choice for your Calathea. It is made from sustainably sourced, organic raw materials and has a slightly acidic pH value. It is also very permeable due to its wood fibre content, which is particularly beneficial for plants that are sensitive to waterlogging. To allow water to drain easily from the pot, create a drainage layer of pebbles at the bottom before adding in your compost. Adding a layer of moss on top of the soil will also help to prevent evaporation and lock in moisture.
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Repot your saffron-coloured calathea every other year in the spring. The new pot should be around 1 to 2cm larger than the original pot. If the pot is too big, the soil will retain too much water, leading to root rot.
While Calathea crocata do not require pruning, you should cut the flower spikes down to the base of the plant at the end of the growing season. Remove any damaged or dead leaves in the same manner.
Tip: it is possible to encourage a second bloom by simulating short-day conditions after the first bloom. To do this, cover your Calathea for 14 hours during the night to ensure just 10 hours of daylight for at least 8 weeks. Flowers should bloom 15 to 20 weeks after starting this treatment. When doing this, take care not to accidentally expose the plant to light, not even for a short time. Studies have proven that even short amounts of light exposure can destroy the effect of short-time-treatment.
Propagating Calathea crocata
Propagating your Eternal Flame plant is relatively simple, the easiest way being by division. This is best done when you are repotting in the spring. Proceed as follows:
- Remove your Calathea crocata from its pot and shake off a little of the soil so you can access the roots. You may see natural separations in the clump of roots. You can either divide the plant here or simply split it in half. Ensure there is at least one leaf and sprout with roots in the new separated section.
- Pot up each section individually. Each new pot should be approximately 6cm larger than the root ball of your newly divided section. Add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the pot followed by compost mixed with 30% crushed expanded clay.
- The perfect location for the young plant is under a plastic cover in a shady area. The temperature should be between 24 °C – 30 °C.
- Propagation has been successful when new leaves have formed. At this stage, remove the plastic cover.
It is also possible to propagate from seed, although it may be more difficult and Calathea crocata seeds are not widely available. However, should you decide to try it out, proceed as follows:
- Use a propagation tray and a special, nutrient-poor soil, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, for instance
- Moisten the soil
- Plant seeds approximately 0.5cm deep
- Cover the tray with cling-film or a propagation lid to maximise humidity
- Keep the seedlings warm at approximately 24 – 30 °C by either placing them in a warm spot in your home or by using a seedling heat mat
- Keep the soil moist and the tray in bright but indirect light
- Once the seedlings reach 3 – 4cm high and have 2 true leaves, pot them up into 7 – 10cm pots
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Calathea crocata care
Moisture is a key component of Calathea crocata care. Eternal Flame plants like to be kept consistently moist. However, they do not like wet feet and are susceptible to root rot, so remember to pour off any excess water after watering.
Fertilise your Eternal Flame plant once a month during the growing season of spring and summer. We recommend a phosphorus-reduced liquid fertiliser, such as our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food, as the perfect complement to a high-quality substrate. Our fertiliser contains living microorganisms (Bacillus sp.) which promote root growth and nutrient absorption. Calathea crocata are particularly sensitive to overfertilisation, so use only half of the dose recommended on the packaging.
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Watering and humidity
Correctly watering your Calathea crocata will help ensure it remains healthy. If underwatered, the plant will start to wilt or get crisp, browning leaves. Conversely, over watering your Calathea crocata will cause the leaves to turn yellow and the roots to rot. The water you use also makes a difference. These plants are sensitive to some chemicals that may be found in tap water, so always water your Eternal Flame plant with distilled water or rainwater.
Whilst careless watering can be a reason for your Calathea crocata’s decline, it is easy to avoid. Water at least once a week during the summer months and less frequently in winter. Check when your plant needs watering by using the finger test on the topsoil. If it is dry to about 2cm deep, then it is time to water.
Tip: if your saffron-coloured calathea’s substrate is too wet, it will likely develop root rot, which usually appears as yellowing and dying leaves. The only way to amend root rot is to repot the plant in fresh substrate and remove any affected plant parts.When the humidity is too low or the sunlight too strong, parts of the plant may dry out and wither. A common way to improve the humidity for a Calathea crocata is to use a spray bottle to mist the foliage with water. Again, it is best to use distilled water, and avoid getting the flowers wet. Another way to improve the humidity is to place the plant’s pot on a saucer full of gravel and water. The water from the saucer will evaporate, creating a humid environment for your calathea.
Troubleshooting a withered Calathea crocata: it is normal for these plants to wither in late winter. You can make your eternal flame plant look good as new by simply cutting off any wilted leaves or flowers close to the plant’s base. To stimulate new flower growth, introduce artificial darkening phases from August onward. 10 hours of light and 14 hours of darkness are ideal for flower induction.
Common diseases and pests
If you notice light speckles on the leaves of your plant, it is probably infested with thrips (Thysanoptera). These pests thrive in low humidity, so lack of moisture could lead to an infestation.
Calathea crocata may also be susceptible to spider mites (Tetranychidae), which usually become a problem in the winter. Spider mites are fairly easy to identify by the fine, white webbing they leave around the leaves. Combat spider mites by thoroughly rinsing the plant under the shower or using a hose. It is also possible to mitigate these pests by wiping the leaves with a neem-free horticultural oil or canola oil. Alternatively, you can also control spider mites biologically with their natural predator, the predatory mite (Gamasina).
Is Calathea crocata poisonous?
Calathea crocata plants are not edible, but are considered non-toxic to cats, dogs and humans.
If you find the Eternal Flame plant too demanding, you might like Chinese evergreens (Aglaonema). These plants are easy to care for and make a charming addition to your indoor space.