Calathea Rufibarba: Detailed Care Guide

The calathea rufibarba is called the furry feather calathea for its incredibly unusual leaf shapes. The long fluffy feather-shaped leaves and maroon undersides make it one of the most beautiful houseplants you can own.

If you’re interested in growing some calatheas, you’re in luck! Calatheas are generally easy to care for, and don’t require constant maintenance to thrive.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about growing and caring for Calathea rufibarba. Let’s get started!

Origin and Description

Calathea rufibarba is a flowering plant that originated in South America’s tropical rainforests. It was first discovered in northeastern Brazil in a state called Bahia.

The common names velvet calathea and furry feather were given to it based on its unique appearance.

The plant is characteristic of its slender leaves and fuzzy undersides. The undersides have a velvet hue, which is why it’s commonly referred to as the velvet calathea.

The leaves are light green during the early stages. As the plant matures, the leaves start getting darker until they reach a deep green color. The color of the undersides ranges from burgundy to maroon.

One of the most appealing things about this plant is how quickly it forms clusters. It can take only a couple of weeks before you start appreciating its thick foliage.

Calatheas are moderate in size. A fully mature calathea doesn’t exceed three feet in height.

Growing Calathea Rifibarba

Growing velvety calatheas is fairly simple. The plant can grow in rough conditions. However, you’re going to need some tips in order to maintain the lavish appearance of the foliage.


Like most houseplants, calatheas thrive in soils that can retain moisture for extended periods of time.

When choosing the rooting medium, look for soils that drain well and contain perlite or moss. This will keep the soil aerated and enable it to retain moisture for longer.

If you don’t feel like preparing the soil yourself, you can look for pre-mixed soils at the store. However, it’s important to test the soil first before planting the calathea.


Watering is a little bit of a tricky subject, especially with calatheas. The thing is, most gardeners water the plants once a week. While this will work fine for most plants, it’s not the right approach to watering the calatheas.

How often you should water the plants will depend on several factors. The most important factor is the soil. As we discussed, you need a medium that can retain moisture well to keep the roots hydrated without overwhelming them.

Other factors are temperature, humidity, and sunlight, but we’ll get to those in a minute.

The general rule of thumb is to, literally, stick your thumb in the soil. You should measure how dry the soil is by putting a finger two inches deep into the soil. If you feel even the slightest hint of wetness, then you shouldn’t water the plants.

If the soil feels completely dry, water the soil without making it soggy or overflowing. Too much water will almost always make the leaves wilt and lose their vibrance.

Once you get used to growing calatheas, you’ll start getting used to their watering needs. Depending on your climate, you may find that you only need to water your plants once every two weeks or, rarely, twice every week.

It’ll take you some trial and error to nail it, but it’s essential to remember that overwatering should be avoided at all costs.

Calathea Rufibarba
Eternal flame flower (calathea crocata) in dark flowerpot on white background.


Calatheas love sunlight, but the delicate leaves may burn if you expose them to direct sunlight. Instead, try giving your plants plenty of bright, indirect, sunlight.

It’s not necessary to invest in UV lamps if you don’t have adequate sunlight. Most calatheas grow just fine under shadier areas. If you’re looking for the optimal lighting conditions, place your plants a few feet away from your window.

Remember, too much sunlight is much worse than too little. It’s best to keep your plants indoors than leave them outside in the scorching sun.


Calatheas are hardy plants. They can generally tolerate temperatures as high as 100 degrees and as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you’re looking for the ideal temperature, you should keep it between 65 and 85 degrees. However, a slightly lower or higher temperature won’t affect the calatheas as much humidity will.


Humidity is extremely important when growing calatheas. In some areas, you may have to invest in a humidifier to properly grow the plants.

Generally, you should make sure the humidity is above 50%. The more the merrier. Calatheas will tolerate low humidity but to an extent.

For example, if you keep the plants at low humidity for long periods of time, the leaves will start to dry out and the plant will eventually die.

If you don’t want to invest in a humidifier, move your plants to a room with high humidity, like the bathroom or kitchen. Also, make sure you don’t subject your plants to sudden changes in humidity, as it can damage the leaves and cause them to droop.


Fertilizers aren’t needed to properly grow your calatheas. Sure, adding moderate amounts of fertilizer can cause the leaves to have deeper and more pronounced foliage. However, we prefer to not fertilize our calatheas at all instead of over-fertilizing them.

Adding too much fertilizer, especially at the growing stage, can cause the leaves to wilt and become yellow. You may also notice the leaves drooping or have brown tips.

Another fatal adverse effect of over-fertilizing is root rot. It can be difficult to treat rotting roots once it happens, and you might end up losing the whole plant.

Our advice? Try to avoid fertilizers altogether. If you notice the plant isn’t growing or growing slowly, buy fertilizer and use half the recommended amount. Avoid fertilizers entirely after the growing season.

Guide to Cleaning

We recommend cleaning your calatheas every now and then. This helps the foliage appear more lavish and also washes off any dirt or pests.

Cleaning calatheas isn’t as easy as other plants. The wavy nature of the leaves makes it a bit hard to get all the spots.

Occasionally, wash your calatheas with lukewarm water to get rid of dirt and germs. Be mindful of the water pressure, and make sure the water isn’t too hot.

It’s important not to fill up the soil with water in the process, especially if you add a little bit of soap to the mix.

This takes us to the next point: a lot of gardeners recommend adding a little bit of soap to the water. We strongly advise you not to do that. Don’t get us wrong, small amounts of soap will do more good than harm. However, if you accidentally add too much soap or the ingredients of the soap contain irritating or corrosive substances, you’ll end up permanently damaging the leaves.

Misting your calatheas is also recommended. However, you should avoid using tap water and stick to distilled water for best results.  

Guide to Pruning

Calathea Rufibarba in large pot

Pruning is generally not required unless your leaves are damaged or infected. If you want to remove the whole leaf, use a sharp pair of scissors and cut at an angle.

Don’t cut too close to the root. Instead, leave an inch of the leaf to promote faster growth.

If your plant appears partly damaged, or you notice some brown areas, take your scissors and carefully cut around the damaged area.

This is purely for aesthetic reasons. The trimmed leaf will grow back eventually, but until then, your calatheas will thrive without any unattractive brown spots or crispy tips.

A special consideration when pruning is to take note of how frequently you’re pruning the plant. If a lot of leaves start yellowing, wilting, or drooping, then you should start paying attention to the underlying condition instead of trimming and pruning everything.


Once your plant is matured and past the growing season, you can safely propagate the plant into a new rooting medium.

The best time to propagate your calathea is during the spring season. Make sure your plant is thriving and the soil is watered the day before. This helps in a quicker growth time and better recovery.

Carefully, dig into the soil until the roots are visible. Remove the plant from the roots and make sure you don’t damage the delicate roots. Even the slightest touch can damage the roots beyond repair.

Next, choose an appropriate container and make sure the soil drains well and has holes for drainage. We recommend you choose a larger rooting medium than the original plant.

Before putting the plant in the new soil, make sure to remove any leftover soil from the original rooting medium.

You can propagate the plant into several pots by splitting the roots. However, you should be careful not to tear up any roots. Avoid any sharp objects and use your fingers to separate the roots at their natural divisions.

If you notice any damaged roots, carefully trim them before putting them in the new soil. It’s a good idea to cover the plant with a clear plastic bag in order to mimic a greenhouse. This can hold in the moisture further and allow for quicker growth.

Finally, we recommend that you choose a rooting medium similar to the original soil. Even if the new medium is better than the original soil, growing conditions that mimic the mother plant will reduce stress on the offspring and allow for better recovery and growth.


There are a few reasons why repotting may be necessary. The first is if you have a small pot and the plant starts outgrowing its container. Other reasons include soggy soil or soil that has become depleted of all nutrients.

If you don’t use fertilizers, you may need to repot your plant after the growing season. Otherwise, we recommend you repot your plant every one to two years.

If your plant grows substantially during the growing season, it may be a good idea to consider using a pot that’s two sizes bigger.

Diseases and Pests

The problem with calatheas is that they like high humidity. While this is essential for proper growth, it also attracts a variety of diseases of pests. It’s also common for fungi to grow in the rooting medium, causing root rot.

Fortunately, most of these issues can be treated if addressed early. In the case of pests, you should look out for leaf scales and spider mites.

Look for an insecticide made for plant-friendly ingredients. If you notice colonies on the leaves, spray some diluted alcohol at the area of infestation to kill off the pests.

If you notice dark spots on the leaves, you may be exposing your plant to too much sunlight. Don’t attempt to remove these spots or you may end up damaging the whole leaf. The dark spots are permanent and are generally self-limiting.

Finally, yellow leaves and brown tips are a general indication of overwatering. Check the soil and make sure it’s moist but not wet. Conversely, drooping leaves generally indicate the plant isn’t getting enough water.


If you’re a pet owner, don’t worry. Calathea rufibarba isn’t toxic to cats or dogs. However, if you notice your pet has taken a special interest in the plant, it’s best to move it away from them.

Although the plant is non-toxic, the attractive shape of the leaves can tempt your pets to nibble at them or take big chunks if they have an appetite.

If your pet eats too many leaves, it’ll cause stomach upsets, diarrhea, and in severe cases, vomiting and loss of appetite.

Watch your pet’s behavior around the calatheas, especially after the growing season is over and the leaves are flourishing.

In Conclusion

Calathea Rufibarba in garden

Known for their unique foliage and beautifully patterned leaves, calatheas are one of the best houseplants you can grow and care for.

All you need is bright indirect sunlight and some humidity. Once your calatheas start growing, you’ll only have to water them when the soil becomes completely dry.