Meet the Marantas

July 6, 2007

Here’s a remarkable group of plants that do things differently from most plants. The marantas are a large genus of the Marantaceae family native to the neotropics. In Costa Rica they are commonly called calateas or marantas, or one of dozens of local names.

Marantas are often confused with calatheas, another genus of the same family.

Botanists are challenged identifying many of them because of their many variations.

A jaunt through your local nursery will probably lead you to several, if not many varieties from which to choose.Marantas are shade-loving plants that grow well under trees or in shady spots at home. They make attractive potted plants for apartments and patio gardens.

What makes them different from most plants has to do with their flowering period.

Most plants mature with foliage, then flower and make seed. Not so with marantas. During the dry season, marantas planted outdoors dry up, and their vital juices are guarded in rhizomes connected to the root system. The early rains stimulate the plants to first emit a set of beautiful flowers on the ground, before foliage appears. The flowers vary from orchid-like blooms to cone-like ginger flowers.

These plants love rich, fertile soil (preferably compost) with good drainage to prevent root decay. Indoor potted plants should be watered at least once a week. A yearly fertilization with soluble fertilizers is enough to keep marantas growing vigorously.

You may have to change the pot as the plant outgrows the soil in several years. At this time you can divide the rhizomes and replant them in new pots. Be sure to plant the rhizomes superficially in the new soil.

Divided plants should be carefully planted at the same soil level as the plants formerly grew; covering the stems with soil can cause them to rot.

If you live on the coast, protect these plants from ocean salt breezes, which can burn their leaves. It’s also important to protect them from grazing animals that love to munch the leaves. Some gardeners have reported problems with mites, which can be controlled naturally by spraying the leaves and drenching the soil with a solution of soapy water. Be sure to use a natural soap, which you can obtain in the macrobiotic sections of leading supermarkets. You’ll find this a simple and easy way to keep your foliage plants clean and insect-free without costly and toxic pesticides.

 

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