The Zebra plant is one of the plants from the Calathea genus. Known under scientific name Calathea zebrina, this gorgeous plant is famous for its foliage. The leaves grow on the long stalks and tend to be oval in shape. This is a perennial plant that can grow more than 3 feet (1 metre) in height.

The zebra plant (scientific name – calathea zebrina) is a perennial foliage plant which displays fairly large ovate leaves at the tips of it’s long stalks, growing up to 1 metre tall.

One thing to note about the Zebra plant is that it’s relatively demanding. This is something you need to know before you decide to grow this plant in your home. However, the good news is that it can thrive indoors and be healthy and strong, as long as you provide it with a warm temperature and enough humidity and light.

Basic Plant Facts

The Zebra plant (scientific name: Calathea zebrina) belongs to the larger family of Marantaceae plants. These plants are common household plants that are typically grown for their foliage. The Zebra plant resembles other Calathea plants but it tends to be a bit taller. The plant is sometimes known under the name “Prayer Plant”. You may find this name in some garden stores. At the same time, the name “Zebra plant” is sometimes given to a different plant, Aphelandra squarrosa. Keep this in mind when shopping for plants to grow.

This plants originates in Mexico. You can generally buy it in garden stores. It can grow around 3 feet (1 metre) in height. It is not toxic for pets (cats and dogs) so this is great news for all pet owners who wish to grow Zebra plants in their home.

The most striking thing about the Zebra plant is its foliage. The leaves are ovate and velvety patterned. The color is green with darker green stripes. This way the leaves resemble zebra stripes, hence the name. The undersides of the leaves are purple. However, the undersides are not easily visible because the leaves tend to grow horizontally. Some leaves will curve or grow a bit more upright, which may expose the undersides.

This plant is known to produce long stalks, up to 3 inches (1 metre) in height. It forms clumps and the leaves grow at the top of the stalks. The leaves are around 15 inches (or even more) in length.

The Zebra plant has small, purple or white flowers. However, it is highly unlikely that this plant would bloom indoors. If the flowers appear, they make a nice addition but they are generally small and not the most striking feature of the Zebra plant. This plant, like most of the Calathea plants, is mainly grown for its gorgeous foliage.

Ideal Growing Conditions

Zebra plants tend to be demanding, so it’s important to provide them with all the important growing conditions they need to thrive. With a good care, you can make your Zebra plant thrive. Generally speaking, Calathea plants prefer warm but shaded areas. They are best grown in greenhouses and conservatories, but you can grow them in any room as long as you provide them with enough light and humidity and as long as you protect it from drafts. This plant grows well in large bathrooms. In fact, a bathroom might be an ideal spot for your Zebra plant because of the high humidity levels.

Here are some of the most important growing conditions to provide to your Zebra plant:

  • Soil. Zebra plants require a peat-based potting mix. It’s best to use a mix that is 2 parts peat and 1 part perlite.
  • Light. Calathea plants grow in forest areas and are generally shaded by trees in their natural habitat. It means that they are rarely exposed to direct sunlight. For this reason, they require a bight but shaded spot. It is important to never subject your Zebra plants to direct sunlight.
  • Temperature. Zebra plants prefer average room temperatures of about 65 to 75 degrees F (18 to 24 degrees Celsius). Make sure to never put your Zebra plant in a room that is lower than 60 degrees F (15 degrees Celsius). Also, it is important to shield your Zebra plant from cold drafts and sudden temperature drops.
  • Watering. These plants require plenty of water during the growing season. This is a plant that likes moisture so you need to keep the soil wet. However, do not allow the plant to sit deep in the water. During the winter, however, it’s best to reduce watering. This is when the growing slows down or stops completely. You can even allow the soil to become slightly dry between waterings in winter. It’s always best to use tepid rain or distilled water for watering your Zebra plants. Avoid cold, hard water on this plant.
  • Fertilizing. Your Zebra plant needs to be fertilized regularly. Provide it with some balanced, preferably liquid fertilizer every two weeks in the period from April to October.
  • Humidity. This plant loves humidity. In fact, this is one of the most important things to get right and also one of the main reasons where plant owners go wrong. Zebra plants need plenty of humidity, which is not always easy to provide. You can try with misting and keeping the soil moist, but it might not be enough. If your plant needs more moisture, consider using an electronic humidifier or humidity tray. Placing your Zebra plant near other plants may also help.

Repotting and Propagation

You need to repot your Zebra plant approximately once every two years. This should be done during spring. This is also the time to propagate your plant if you like. Propagation is best done by diving the main plant.

Simply divide the plant into two (or more) segments and re-pot the segments into separate pots. It is important to provide enough warmth and humidity to the new plants.

Common Problems with Zebra Plants

There are some common problems Zebra plants encounter that you need to know how to fix:

  • Curling leaves and spots on leaves: This is most commonly caused by under-watering. If this happens, check the soil. If it’s dry, it is the time to water your plant. It is vital to keep a regular watering schedule for your Zebra plant.
  • Brown tips on leaves. This is a common sign that your Zebra plant needs more humidity. Brown tips on leaves usually signify that the air is too dry for your plant.
  • Leaves dropping: This is another sign that the air might be too dry. Make sure to increase the humidity around the plant.
  • Limp plant stems: This typically happens when you over-water your Zebra plant during winter. It is particularly common when the temperatures are too low. Over-watering can lead to rotting of the stems so make sure to pay close attention to how much you water your Zebra plant.

Photo credit: blumenbiene Korbmarante (Calathea zebrina) via photopin (license)

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