Calathea X insignis (syn.: C. lancifolia): Rattlesnake Plant

Often the origin of certain cultivated species is not clear or else the parents that gave rise to the hybrids are not definitely known. Such is the case with the plant which is probably a hybrid. At some time it appeared in collections under an incorrect name and from there found its way into cultivation. The true Calathea insignis is not cultivated at all and besides it is a plant that is almost 2 m (6 ft) high with leaves coloured green on both sides. The calathea barely reaches a height of 60 cm (2 ft) and has beautifully coloured foliage.

Most of the loveliest Calathea species appeared in botanical collections in the middle or no later than the end of the 19th century. Despite this they are not often found in shops, in the same way that the related and equally lovely genus Ctenanthe is not often seen. The reason is that they are relatively difficult to grow, both as regards cultivation and speed of growth. It takes a very long time for the roots of these plants to fill the pot and to form adequate stores of reserve food in the underground rhizomes. Until then they produce comparatively few and small leaves and not till after do they form nice attractive clumps and become gems of a collection. Furthermore, since they are typical plants of the undergrowth of hot and permanently humid tropical rain forests, mostly in Brazil, they are not always successful indoors, where they find the dry atmosphere uncongenial. Often even frequent spraying does not satisfy their needs and they must be placed in a closed plant-case or glasshouse. Small species also do well in demijohns. Even though they are demanding plants we should not give up when growing them, but try over and over again to achieve success, with which we will usually be rewarded in the end. Often the plant becomes acclimatized and after several years will begin to do well even in a dish arrangement, though it previously showed only slight signs of life. In such cases the grower’s patience will truly have been well rewarded.

Use John Innes potting compost No. 1 or a peat-based compost as the growing medium.

15. November 2011 by Dave Pinkney
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