This Is Why Your Calathea Leaves Pointing Up

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Why do we all get into Calathea?? They clearly hate being kept as houseplants.

I’m actually on my second time around with Calathea. I went through a Calathea phase early on in my houseplant journey, killed them all (the Great Spider Mite Epidemic of ’19) and swore off them forever.

Then I gradually introduced them into my terrarium where they THRIVED. If I had the room, they’d all be in there.

And now I’m fully immersed in the clown phase. I bought an Orbifolia, a Rattlesnake, and a Stromanthe (not a Calathea, but close enough) and they’re all doing well (for now).

So, here we are troubleshooting why they’re pointing their leaves up!

Calathea leaves point up at night

Calathea are prayer plants, so they ‘pray’ at night by folding their leaves so that they stand up vertically.

This is completely normal for them to do, but for reasons I don’t quite understand, some do it more than others, and it depends more on lighting (from what I’ve observed) than the health of the plant.

I used to keep my Calathea in a dark corner with grow lights, and they grow really well and quickly but didn’t pray.

Now I keep them about eight feet from a MASSIVE south-facing window and they pray a lot. The light is definitely medium but is closer to what they’d experience in the wild.

As I said, it doesn’t seem to affect the health of the plant or be a sign that the plant is healthy OR unhealthy.

Have I convinced them they’re living in a rainforest??

The reason they pray is that during the day they lay their leave flat to absorb more light so they can photosynthesize.

If they get wet, it's worth it because they need to photosynthesise, but plants do not like getting wet. 

At night, they can’t photosynthesise anyway, so they fold their leaves up so that water runs off them.

Healthy Calathea are pretty upright naturally

Calathea move their leaves a lot, and an upright, perky Calathea is usually a good sign.

If they’re droopy and sad-looking, then that can be a sign that something’s amiss.

Also, the species of Calathea can determine how upright the leaves are.

Orbifolia, for example, tend to lay their leaves out pretty flat and don’t move them up very much – presumably because their leaves are big and round and they’re too heavy to lift.

Rattlesnake Calalatheas, on the other hand, have lance-shaped leaves that are easier to raise.

Baby rattlesnake Calathea tend to pray in a pretty pronounced and noticeable way.

Vertical Calathea leaves can be a sign of stress

That being said, there are some instances when Calathea raise their leaves up because they’re stressed.

For example:

Underwatered Calathea may point their leaves up

Calathea live on the rainforest floor, so they haven’t evolved to deal with drought – they like to stay evenly moist all the time and won’t tolerate anything else for long.

A lot of Calathea have big leaves and transpire a lot, but it’s not an issue in the wild because they have consistent moisture at the roots.

However, if you let your Calathea dry out too much, it may pick its leaves up to reduce the surface area of the leaves that are pointing towards the sun to reduce photosynthesis and transpiration.

If your Calathea is drying out frequently, then you might benefit from putting it in a bigger pot or putting it in a denser soil mix that retains more water.

Check your humidity

Low humidity can also cause your Calathea to raise its leaves, again to avoid losing too much water through its leaves.

Misting does NOT increase the humidity for long, and Calathea needs consistent humidity to thrive.

Here in the UK they're not particularly suited to bathrooms because the humidity is inconsistent and bathrooms are cold for a lot of the year. 

Some do fine in summer (my leopardina didn’t seem to mind being in the bathroom) but in general, you want to put them in a room with 60% humidity/ My living room is naturally pretty humid, but if yours isn’t you may want to invest in a humidifier.

Check your water quality

I’ve never experienced water quality affecting the leaves lifting up BUT we know that Calathea can be finicky about everything water quality (in both your watering water AND your humidity so that’s fun) so it’s something to bear in mind.

You can generally tell if there's something amiss with your water if your Calathea has brown spots and edges.

Check your fertilising (and pH)

Calathea can be sensitive to over-fertilising, which can make your Calathea leaves stand upright even during the day.

If you’ve been fertilising more than usual, check the pH of your soil (you want it to be between 5.5 and 7) and maybe lay off for a couple of months.

Over-fertilising is rarely an issue unless you're going way off-piste, for example using a higher dosage than recommended or fertilising every time you water.

Check the amount of direct light

As I said, light really seems to impact the position of Calathea leaves. They like medium light, but not low light, so you may need to move them around until they find somewhere they like.

Don't put Calathea in direct light, because it forces them to photosynthesise too much and they can up getting stressed. 

The light can also bleach the leaves and cause new leaves to come in pure white, which sounds nice but in reality, is a recipe for a brown, crispy mess.

Final thoughts

I wouldn’t worry too much about Calathea’s leaves standing upright.

For one thing, it’s a perfectly natural thing for prayer-plants to do, and for another, if there was something very wrong with your Calathea it would manifest in many other ways that are way worse than leaves standing upright.

Think crispy leaves, not growing, looking droopy and sad for apparently no reason.

In the grand scheme of things, upright leaves are no big deal.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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