The Ctenanthe plant, native to tropical Brazil, is a member of the Marantaceae family and is related to the Calathea and Prayer plant. These evergreen perennials are grown primarily for the beauty of their large, oval, colorfully, patterned leaves. The three species which make good houseplants are C. lubbersiana, C. oppenheimiana, and C. burle-marxii. C. lubbersiana reaches a height of about 18 inches and has green and yellow patterned elliptical leaves with pale green undersides. C. oppenheimiana also called the ‘Never Never Plant, grows as tall as 3ft., produces lance shaped leaves that are dark green with silver bands, and has foliage with maroon undersides. The Tricolor variety of C.oppenheimiana is even more colorful. C. burle-marxii is a smaller more compact plant that has silver gray elliptical leaves with green stripes. These plants are considered mildly poisonous (although often listed as non-toxic)), and may cause allergic reactions. It should be kept away from pets and small children. Read more about common houseplants that can be dangerous in my book Don’t Feed Me to Your Cat: A Guide to Poisonous Houseplants. A Ctenanthe is not easy to care for and leaves are quickly damaged when the humidity is not high enough. This plant can be quite frustrating for a novice plant grower.
Ctenanthes like bright indirect light. If there is insufficient light, new leaves appear solid green rather than patterned with attractive colors. If there is too much light, the colors in the leaves fade.
Keep the soil evenly moist but never soggy. Ctenanthes do not like to dry out, and do not like cold or hard water.
Fertilize monthly in the spring and summer diluting the plant food at 1/2 the recommended strength. Fertilize every other month in the fall and winter. Never feed a Ctenanthe immediately after repotting, wait at least 6 weeks.
Ctenanthes like warm consistent temperatures and will not tolerate temperatures below 60°F (15°C).
High humidity is very important. If the air is dry, place your Ctenanthe on a pebble tray filled with water. Be sure the plant is sitting on the pebbles and not in the water.
The white or yellow flowers are small and inconsequential in comparison to the beautiful leaves. The flowers have 3 sepals, 3 petals, and form a short funnel.
Spider mite and mealy bug are the pests to look out for.
Botrytis, a fungal disease, can occur because of the high humidity these plants require.
Use a good all purpose potting mix that drains well but still retains moisture.
Re-pot once a year or every other year depending upon how quickly the plant roots fill the container.
A Ctenanthe rarely needs pruning, just remove any dead growth.
Ctenanthe plants are easily propagated using the offsets that develop into bushy clumps around the base of the plant. When propagating, it is important to use the same type of soil as was used for the original plant. Stem cuttings is another propagation choice. Keep the new plants warm and the soil moist until established.
Poisonous Plant Info
A Ctenanthe plant is slightly poisonous, although it is often listed as non-toxic. It may cause individual allergic reactions. The ASPCA states that it is not poisonous to dogs and cats.
Yellow leaves on a Ctenenathe Plant means you are allowing the soil to get too dry. The soil of a Ctenanthe Plant should be moist at all times.
When a Ctenanthe gets too much light, heat, or too little water, the leaves curl up to protect themselves. Move your Ctenanthe to a cooler less bright location and give it a little more water. The leaves should unfold almost immediately.
You’ve probably over watered the plant and it has developed root rot. Although Ctenanthes like to be moist, they don’t like soggy soil. During the cooler months they need less water.
Ctenanthes needs a great deal of humidity. Brown dry leaf tips are caused by dry air and not enough humidity. Place your plant on a wet pebble tray or set a small humidifier near it.