Revealing the Verdant Tapestry: A Brief Journey Through the History of the Calathea Genus

November 02, 2023

Revealing the Verdant Tapestry: A Brief Journey Through the History of the Calathea Genus

The Calathea genus stands as a captivating and diverse collection of tropical evergreen plants celebrated for their exquisite foliage and distinctive characteristics. Originating from the lush realms of Central and South America, Calathea species belong to the Marantaceae family, a group encompassing various other ornamental plants. The history of the Calathea genus is deeply intertwined with the exploration and appreciation of tropical flora, evolving over centuries.

Ancient Indigenous Utilization:

Calathea species boast a storied past of indigenous usage by diverse cultures within their native habitats. Certain varieties, like Calathea lutea and Calathea allouia, yield edible tubers and have served as essential food crops in parts of South America, particularly in the Amazon Basin. These plants have been a source of sustenance for generations among the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest. In traditional practices, Calathea leaves have played a role in rituals and ceremonies, while their resilient and pliable fibers have found application in crafting baskets, mats, and other woven articles.

European Exploration and Global Introduction:

The introduction of Calathea species to Europe and other corners of the world harks back to the age of European exploration. As intrepid European explorers and botanists ventured into the tropical realms during the 18th and 19th centuries, they chanced upon an array of exotic and hitherto undiscovered plant species, including the enchanting Calathea. These botanical curiosities were gathered, studied, and transported back to Europe, marking the inception of their global journey.

Botanical Taxonomy and Classification:

The taxonomy of the Calathea genus has evolved over time as botanists honed their understanding of these plants. Nestled within the expansive Marantaceae family, which encompasses various other genera, the Calathea genus has witnessed the identification and classification of numerous species and cultivars, each possessing its own unique characteristics and attributes.

Horticultural Allure:

Calathea species ascended to prominence during the 19th and 20th centuries as coveted indoor plants and ornamental additions to gardens. Their arresting foliage, adorned with intricate patterns and vibrant hues, enchanted horticulturists and plant aficionados alike. Notable Calathea species such as Calathea ornata, affectionately dubbed the "Pinstripe Plant," and Calathea medallion, became iconic choices for indoor embellishment. The burgeoning Western interest in tropical flora corresponded with an escalating demand for these extraordinary plants, fostering their inclusion in European botanical gardens and personal collections, thus expanding the propagation and cultivation of Calathea species beyond their native habitat.

Contemporary Cultivation:

In recent decades, Calathea species have experienced a resurgence in popularity as cherished indoor plants. Revered for their resplendent leaves, often adorned with stripes, spots, and intricate designs, these plants are celebrated not only for their aesthetic virtues but also for their ability to flourish in low-light settings and their air-purifying attributes.


Breeding and Varietal Proliferation:

Plant breeders and enthusiasts have actively engaged in the creation of novel Calathea varieties distinguished by their unique leaf patterns and colors. These efforts have given rise to a profusion of cultivars, further enhancing the allure of Calathea species within the realm of horticulture. While at Sunshine Horticulture, we proudly cultivate a dozen distinct varieties, the potential for many more awaits exploration.


From their humble origins as South American food staples to their esteemed status as ornamental treasures across the globe, Calathea species have embarked on a remarkable journey. Their history is intrinsically linked to botanical exploration, horticultural innovation, and the enduring enchantment evoked by the beauty of tropical foliage. Whether you are a botanist, gardener, or an indoor plant enthusiast, the Calathea genus continues to captivate and inspire with its unique and enchanting attributes.