Calathea rufibarba: flowers, varieties & care

Elisabetta
Elisabetta
Elisabetta
Elisabetta

Calathea rufibarba is quite a demanding houseplant, but given the right care it can be a beautiful, fuzzy addition to your houseplant collection. Discover our top furry feather calathea care tips.

Calathea rufibarba in a pot
Calathea rufibarba have very long, unique, furry and wavy-edged leaves [Photo: Simol1407/ Shutterstock.com]

Calatheas typically have wonderfully unique, often colourful foliage – and this is also the case with Calathea rufibarba. Furry feather calatheas have slender, soft, furry leaves with deep burgundy leaf undersides. But as with all calatheas, this tropical houseplant is not the easiest to care for and requires a bit of TLC.

Calathea rufibarba: flowers, origin and characteristics

Calathea rufibarba, also known as the furry feather or velvet calathea, is a member of the arrowroot family known as Marantaceae. It originates from the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, but is often kept as a houseplant. Given the right conditions and care, furry feather calatheas can grow to about 30 to 60 cm high. Their leaves are long and slender with wavy edges. Notably, the underside of the foliage feels soft and furry due to so-called trichomes. Trichomes are protrusions of the outermost cell layer of the underside of the leaf. The underneath of Calathea rufibarba leaves as well as the stems are a deep burgundy-purple colour. With the right care, furry feather calatheas can produce yellow, basket-like flowers in late winter or spring.

Common confusion: Calathea rufibarba and Goeppertia rufibarba cannot be clearly distinguished from one another and the names are often used synonymously. Botanists are still unsure as whether they might in fact be the same plant species. Goeppertia warscewiczii and Calathea warscewiczii are close relatives that look very similar to Calathea rufibarba, but do not have fine hairs on the leaf undersides. People also often use these names as synonyms of Calathea rufibarba despite them being different plants entirely. To confuse things further, furry feather calatheas are sometimes called velvet calatheas, which is also another name used to refer to Calathea warscewiczii (which is also known as the jungle velvet plant).

Yellow Calathea rufibarba flowers
Calathea rufibarba flowers are just as impressive as the leaves [Photo: PENPAK PROMLEE/ Shutterstock.com]

Calathea rufibarba varieties

Generally speaking, there are three different Calathea rufibarba varieties on the market, all of which are quite similar and can be difficult to differentiate:

Calathea rufibarba ‘Wavestar’: reaches about 60 cm high and has light green, slender leaves.

'Wavestar' variety in pot
The 60 cm tall cultivar ‘Wavestar’ has beautiful, light green leaves [Photo: JanWolanski.com/ Shutterstock.com]

Calathea rufibarba ‘Blue Grass’: This cultivar is more compact, reaching about 45 cm high, and has long, blue-green leaves.

Calathea rufibarba ‘Elgergrass’: This variety has striking, contrasting green-purple leaves and reaches a height of about 45 cm.

Elgergrass variety in pot
The showy leaves of the cultivar ‘Elgergrass’ are a real eye-catcher [Photo: InfoFlowersPlants/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing Calathea rufibarba: where and how

Like many other plants from tropical rainforests, velvet calatheas do not tolerate direct sunlight well. Place your Calathea rufibarba in a bright spot in partial-shade. A large, slightly curtained south-facing window is ideal. If the plant is in a room with a south-facing window without a curtain, move it further away from the window to prevent it from getting direct sunlight. If it is near an east or west-facing window, you can move it a little closer. Rooms with north-facing windows are generally not bright enough for Calathea rufibarba.

Calathea rufibarba requires temperature between 22°C and 30 °C in summer. In winter, keep the temperature between 18 °C and 20 °C. Ideally, Calathea rufibarba need high humidity levels of over 70 %. To up the humidity, place bowls filled with water on radiators or regularly mist the leaves using rainwater. Use a high-quality potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. This soil is peat-free, so offers better drainage than most standard soils. This makes it easier to avoid waterlogging. As calatheas do not have deep roots, it is best to use a shallow container over a standard pot. Ensure there is drainage hole in the container to allow excess water to run off. Another benefit of wide, shallow pots is that the larger soil surface area allows more water to evaporate, thereby increasing the humidity around the plant.

Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
Organic All Purpose Compost, 40L
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  • Perfect for all your house, garden & balcony plants
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Calathea rufibarba care

Always keep the soil moist, but avoid waterlogging at all costs. As with most calatheas, Calathea rufibarba does not tolerate hard water well, so water with lime-free water such as rainwater if possible. Water that is high in lime also increases the pH value of the soil long term which can potentially lead to problems with nutrient uptake.

As it grows quite slowly, Calathea rufibarba rarely needs pruning. Simply cut any withered, brown leaves and faded flowers down to the base of the plant using a clean pair of scissors.

Green and yellow calathea rufibarba leaves
Waterlogged soil can cause yellowing leaves [Photo: sharohyip/ Shutterstock.com]

Fertilise Calathea rufibarba every one to two weeks during the active growing period from spring to autumn. Our Plantura Liquid Houseplant Food is suitable for this, as it contains a special soil bacterium which ensures optimum phosphorus utilisation and thereby helps your velvet calathea to thrive. As long as your Calathea ruifibarba is somewhere bright and warm in winter, you can continue to fertilise it every five to six weeks. Otherwise, stop fertilising altogether.

Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
Liquid Houseplant Food, 800ml
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(5/5)
  • Perfect for a wide variety of houseplants & foliage plants
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£10.99

Repot your velvet calathea if you notice its growth has stagnated or its roots have outgrown the pot. This is also an opportune time to divide the plant if you wish the propagate it.

Propagation

The best way to propagate Calathea rufibarba is to divide it while repotting, as this plant naturally produces daughter plants anyway. Here is how to divide your furry feather calathea:

  • Carefully lift out the mother plant out of the pot at the base of the stem
  • Lay the potted plant on its side and cut the root ball in half or quarters with a straight cut between the stem and the roots
  • Plant the daughter plants into new pots, then water and cover with a plastic bag or some cling film to increase the humidity
  • Place in a warm, semi-shady spot at a temperature of at least 22 – 25°C
  • Air things out daily in the morning and late in the evening
  • After two months, the roots will be strong enough for repotting
Dark green and purple calathea leaves
Furry feather calatheas can be propagated by division [Photo: Elena Rostunova/ Shutterstock.com]

Is Calathea rufibarba poisonous?

It is not easy to find a houseplant that is suitable for a home with children and pets. Generally speaking, Calathea rufibarba is not poisonous, but it can cause an allergic reaction if ingested. Therefore, we advise keeping an eye on children and any of your four-legged friends around this plant.

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