Goeppertia picturata

Raquel Patro

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Goeppertia picturata

Goeppertia picturata, formerly classified as Calathea picturata, is a perennial, herbaceous, and ornamental species native to the tropical regions of South America, with significant distribution in the northwest and northeast of Brazil. This plant, popularly known as calathea or prayer plant, is part of the Marantaceae family, known for its diversity of species thriving in moist and shaded environments typical of tropical forests.

In its habitat, Goeppertia picturata is found in the understory, where sunlight is filtered by the canopies of tall trees. This filtering provides an ideal environment of indirect light, which is crucial for the development of the striking colors of its leaves. Additionally, constant humidity and organic-rich litter soil contribute to the vigor of this species. Due to its adaptability, this plant is also widely cultivated as an ornamental in various parts of the world, especially in indoor environments where conditions can be simulated to mimic its natural habitat.

Goeppertia picturata "Argentea"
Goeppertia picturata “Argentea”. Photo by Canva.

The genus Goeppertia is named in honor of the German botanist Karl Theodor Ferdinand Goeppert (1814–1880), recognized for his significant contributions to the study of fossil and living plants. The specific epithet picturata derives from the Latin “picturatus,” meaning “painted.” This term is a direct allusion to the impressive and vivid markings found on the plant’s leaves, resembling paintbrush strokes. The richness of detail in the leaves makes it a popular choice for plant collectors and gardening enthusiasts who appreciate its unique qualities.

Inflorescência da Goeppertia picturata.
Inflorescence of Goeppertia picturata. Photo by Rob Westerduijin

The root system of Goeppertia picturata is a clump-forming plant that grows via rhizomes, which are horizontal stems that grow below the soil. These rhizomes aid in the vegetative propagation of the plant, enabling the formation of new shoots around it. The roots that emerge from these rhizomes are fibrous and dense, adapted to quickly absorb moisture from the organic-rich soil.

The leaves of Goeppertia picturata are one of its most notable features. They are large, oval, and asymmetrical, with a length of approximately 7 to 10 inches and a width of 3 to 4 inches. The petiole, or leaf stalk, arises from the rhizome and is long and dark purple in color, providing a striking contrast with the leaf blade. The upper surface of the leaves is intense and glossy green, with irregular silver bands along the central vein and two parallel side bands on the margins. These silver markings are most pronounced in the cultivar ‘Argentea’, which has leaves with green edges and a vibrant silver center. The underside of the leaves exhibits a purplish violet color, which is not only aesthetically pleasing but also helps absorb light in low-light conditions.

Goeppertia picturata "Crimson"
Goeppertia picturata “Crimson”. Photo by Canva.

Although Goeppertia picturata is primarily cultivated for its decorative foliage, it also produces flowers. The flowers appear in summer, in compact spike-like inflorescences approximately 4 inches long. These inflorescences are composed of overlapping green bracts with purple hues, which enclose bisexual flowers. The flowers have three greenish sepals and a tubular white corolla with three lobes, being quite inconspicuous and without significant fragrance. After flowering, the plant can produce fruits in the form of pinkish capsules enclosing the seeds, although this phenomenon is less common under domestic cultivation conditions.

With leaves featuring an intense silver-green center and darker edges, the beauty of Goeppertia picturata does not go unnoticed in indoor environments. This characteristic makes the plant a visual focal point in any space, from homes to offices and large entrance halls. Mainly cultivated as an indoor plant, it requires specific conditions such as a minimum temperature of 61°F and high humidity, making it ideal for indoors where such conditions can be easily maintained. That means no dehumidifiers or air conditioning.

In landscaping, Goeppertia picturata is used both as ground cover and in mass plantings for a dramatic and lush effect, thanks to its silver foliage contrasting with the undersides of the leaves. The variety ‘Argentea’, with silver leaves and green margins, is especially valued and has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Garden Merit Award, recognizing its beauty and adaptability as an ornamental plant. Additionally, it is considered a safe, non-toxic plant, ideal for decorating indoor spaces frequented by young children and pets.

Folhas elevadas em Goeppertia picturata "Argentea", cultivada como planta de interior.
Raised leaves on Goeppertia picturata “Argentea”, grown as an indoor plant. Photo by Canva.

One of the most fascinating characteristics of Goeppertia picturata is its ability to “pray.” Like other plants in the “prayer plants” group, its leaves move in response to changes in light, folding upward at night in a position resembling praying hands and lowering again at dawn. This nightly movement helps the plant regulate its biological rhythms and maintain leaf health.

Goeppertia picturata requires bright indirect light to thrive. It should be placed in a location where it can receive filtered sunlight, avoiding direct sun exposure that can burn the leaves and fade their unique colors. The ideal potting mix for Goeppertia picturata should be well-draining and rich in organic matter, such as forest litter. A fern-specific mix supplemented with draining materials like coconut coir helps form an ideal substrate mix.

This plant prefers consistently moist soil, but not waterlogged. It is essential to allow the top layer of soil to slightly dry between waterings to prevent root rot. The water used should be lukewarm and preferably non-calcareous, such as rainwater. Like other Marantaceae, Goeppertia picturata is also sensitive to chemicals dissolved in water, such as chlorine or fluoride. Therefore, avoid using treated tap water for watering.

Goeppertia picturata thrives in high humidity environments. Regular misting of the leaves, especially during drier months, can help maintain the ideal humidity level. Alternatively, placing the pot on a tray with pebbles and water can also increase humidity around the plant without saturating the soil. Although it appreciates humidity, air circulation is crucial to prevent fungal diseases. Ensuring the plant is not in a stagnant environment can help maintain its overall health.

The ideal temperature for cultivating Goeppertia picturata ranges between 64 and 81°F. Avoiding exposure to cold drafts and sudden temperature changes is vital to prevent thermal stress to the plant. During the growth months, spring and summer, it is recommended to fertilize the plant every two weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer, preferably organic and diluted to half the recommended concentration. Avoiding overdosing is crucial for Marantaceae plants, which easily show leaf burns due to nutrient imbalance.

Goeppertia picturata "Vandenheckei"
Goeppertia picturata “Vandenheckei”. Photo by Todd Boland

Regular pruning is not necessary, but the removal of dead or yellowing leaves can help maintain the plant healthy and attractive. Propagation can be done by dividing the rhizome during the vegetative growth period, usually in spring. Each division should have a portion of the rhizome and several leaves to ensure success. Propagation by rhizome cuttings is possible, although less common. Young plants should be grown in rich, well-draining substrate conducive to the development of delicate roots. Plant boxes are ideal at this stage.

About Raquel Patro

Raquel Patro is a landscaper and founder of the Since 2006, she has been developing specialized content on plants and gardens, as she believes that everyone, whether amateurs or professionals, should have access to quality content. As a geek, she likes books, science fiction and technology.