Looking for a tropical plant modeled after possibly the most beautiful creature on Earth?
You’ve found it.
With contrasting green foliage pulled straight from peacock plumage, the Peacock Plant is a truly majestic species that’s sure to add a touch of class to any space.
No surprises then, that Calathea makoyana is one of the most sought-after prayer plants. It makes an excellent houseplant showpiece or focal centre in a terrarium.
Though – as with many of its Calathea brethren – it’s definitely got a personality and some particular care requirements that you’ll need to know.
Find out how to keep your Peacock Plant foliage looking full and fabulous!
What is the Peacock Plant? (Besides Irresistible)
Native to Brazil, Calathea makoyana is a prayer plant with a penchant for the dramatic (both in visual style and behavior).
So, of course it has that characteristic prayer plant leaf movement. You’ll see the striking foliage change shape throughout the day as it opens and closes its leaves to the Sun.
The ornate green leaves are contrasted beautifully by dark purple undersides – both contributing to the other quite fitting common name, “Cathedral Windows”.
As per its tropical origins, the Peacock Plant insists on having home conditions as close to it’s native rainforest floor as possible.
And, this diva will quickly let you know you if its not good enough…
It can absolutely be grown as a houseplant (mine is doing wonderfully in a pot), but a terrarium can really help to guarantee you’re consistently giving it world-beating humidity levels.
Calathea makoyana Care & Growth
At a Glance
|Lighting||Bright, indirect light|
|Watering||Regular, even moisture|
|Humidity||6-24 inches (15-60cm)|
|Growth||Moderate to high humidity (50-80%)|
Do you remember the children’s story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears?
Well, think of the Peacock Plant as Goldilocks – it needs just enough but not too much light, or it will do the plant equivalent of spitting out and whining about its porridge.
As a tropical understory plant, it’s used to receiving mostly dappled light through the rainforest canopy.
In the home, the best equivalent is bright indirect sunlight.
Direct sunlight will quickly scorch the delicate leaves, so you’ll want to avoid this at all costs. Dry, curling leaves is usually the first indicator.
I’d recommend a North-facing window (if you’re in the Northern hemisphere like myself here in the UK) as that’s going to provide consistent indirect light throughout the day.
Though mine is situated on a bookshelf in a room with a large South-facing bay window, which gets a lot of Sun. To balance this, my Calathea are placed at the farthest point from the window (about 3-4m away) so they never get any direct light.
On the flip side, whilst harsh sun is certainly the worst offender, full shade is not going to make for a happy plant or particularly attractive foliage – so make sure it’s getting enough light to keep its foliage vibrant.
A grow light can be super helpful here to maximise light energy without risk of scorching.
Peacock Plants can be thirsty plants.
They’re really going to value having consistent access to moisture, but just like on the rainforest floor it’s going to need to balance that with lots of drainage.
Both the moisture retention and drainage is best provided through use of the right kind of substrate mix – plus, a drainage hole (or layer in a terrarium) can be helpful too as a fail-safe for excess water.
In the pot, I like to soak mine through an even spray until I see water spill out of the bottom.
Then, I’ll simply wait until the top couple of inches are dry to the touch before watering again.
In a terrarium, you’ll want to achieve a water balance that maintains a damp substrate at all times, but never allows it to become saturated. I do this by misting infrequently until I can see light condensation on the glass at the level of the substrate layer.
Calathea are reported to be sensitive to flouride in water but I’ve never had any problems with tap water. In terrariums I recommend using purified water (for different reasons) so this is somewhat negated, or you can always use rain water.
Finding the right substrate – and combination of various additives – is another area where this plant can be tricky to care for.
As mentioned, the Calathea makoyana needs its soil to retain moisture well while still providing good drainage. It’s prone to root rot in overly soggy conditions, so it’s worth making the effort to get this right.
Both in a terrarium and in the pot, I like to use a coco coir base as it’s light and fluffy (so it doesn’t compact and drains well) plus it holds lots of moisture for those roots to access easily.
Adding supplements like orchid bark, perlite/vermiculite or pumice can also help to aerate the mix, and they retain water themselves (especially vermiculite).
If you do use coco coir, just remember that it doesn’t contain any nutrients of its own. I prefer to add earthworm castings as a natural solution, but you can use liquid fertilizer top ups if you prefer.
Check out my full guide to substrates if you need more help on this.
Temperature & Humidity
The Peacock Plant likes a warm, humid environment free of unpredictable changes in temperature or drafts (in the Winter months, you’ll want to take extra care).
The humidity part is a bit of a deal-breaker too.
Calathea are notorious for liking lots of humidity, and though they’ll fare okay in anything above 50%, you’ll really be wanting to push it up towards 80% to have yourself some healthy plants.
If your plant is showing crispy tips on the outer edges of the leaves (and it’s not been in direct light) then its probably a sign of your humidity levels being too low.
As an indoor plant, you may find a humidifier useful.
Personally, I don’t use one, but the room I grow my plant in is usually around 80% humidity anyway. Just the natural British weather conditions boosted by having a lot of other plants in the room.
So – as with many other Calathea species – it can be finicky as an average tropical houseplant, but adjusts easily to closed terrarium conditions.
In fact, a terrarium kind of solves all of these problems at once.
Peacock Plants aren’t particularly rapid growers, and they tend to stay relatively compact until they’ve reached full maturity.
Mature plants can grow upwards to become a much taller, slender plant – creating various levels of foliage – but it can take a long time to reach that level.
Not to mention, the common trait amongst Calathea to sacrifice their older leaves in order to push out new ones.
Which I guess makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, but sometimes it ends up being a 1 for 1 trade and the plant never really progresses…
Otherwise, these plants are incredibly easy to trim back. So if it does ever get to the point where it’s outgrowing its container, a few snips and you’re back in business.
It is very common for members of the Prayer Plant family to be best propagated using the root division method, which involves uprooting the plant entirely and gently dividing its root system into smaller portions.
Each “new” plant can then be repotted right away and will begin to fill out their terrarium or container over time.
Who could possibly complain about having more plants?
Varieties & Similar Plants
As we mentioned before, the Calathea makoyana comes from the Marantaceae family and shares many similarities with other Calathea or Maranta species.
Other popular Prayer Plants can share the same deep purple undersides and dark to light green patterns on their leaves (e.g. Calathea ornata), or they can even come in varieties that are black like the Calathea roseopicta “Dottie” or with long skinny leaves like the Calathea lancifolia, also known as the Rattlesnake Plant.
Goes Well With
The broad, colourful leaves of the Peacock Plant is going to be best balanced with plants that have solid green leaves and soft-textured foliage. Ferns are a great choice here, and they’re going to have similar water and humidity requirements too.
- Nephrolepis cordifolia (Lemon Button Fern)
- Pellaea rotundifolia (Button Fern)
- Nephrolepis exaltata (Fluffy Ruffles Fern)
Frequently Asked Questions
Peacock Plants can grow up to a maximum size of around 2 ft in height. Though, even a mature plant can take a long time to reach that height.
Misting a Peacock Plant is only a temporary way of increasing humidity, and though helpful to a small extent there are better ways to do so (e.g. humidifiers and terrariums).
As prayer plants, Peacock Plants fold their leaves at night into the closed hand position. Though, it’s still not clear why they do this.
Drooping leaves are a common sign of underwatering, so if you find the substrate is drying out too fast – try adjusting your watering schedule or swapping to a more moisture-retentive substrate.
Peacock Plants grow in overarching stems, so you’re best off cutting a leaf directly from the base if you need to prune it back.
While it isn’t often that you will see the tiny white flowers that bloom from the Peacock Plant, it’s certainly not impossible from more mature plants.
Curling leaves on a Peacock Plant can either be a sign of low humidity or direct sunlight damage. So, depending on where your plant is located, try adjusting accordingly.
Thankfully, the Peacock Plant – like other Calathea – is not a poisonous plant.
Calathea makoyana isn’t particularly susceptible to diseases or pests, however they are known to occasionally attract spider mites.