Calathea orbifolia is one of the largest calathea species, and is native to Bolivia in South America.
This plant has large, round, dark green leaves with silvery striped markings on their top sides.
Like most calatheas, its natural habitat is the tropical rainforests. This means that when it is grown as a houseplant in the United States, certain adjustments and compromises need to be made in order to provide living conditions that will help it stay healthy and thrive.
One of the most common problems encountered by Calathea orbifolia owners is when their plant starts drooping.
The possible causes of this problem are too much water, not enough water, dust on the leaves, lack of humidity, the plant being rootbound, and transplant or repotting stress.
In this article, we will discuss each of these causes, as well as what you can do to remedy them.
Why is my Calathea orbifolia drooping?
Too much water
Overwatering is a common cause of drooping in this plant. This can happen from giving the plant too much water every time you water it, watering it too frequently, using poorly-draining soil and pots, or not adjusting your watering habits to changes in the weather, season or climate.
No matter the reason, all of these actions have the same result: your plant’s roots will be constantly standing in waterlogged soil.
When there is too much water in the soil, all of the air pockets are eliminated and the roots cannot absorb oxygen. They will therefore drown and die. Opportunistic pathogens will attack the decomposing roots, making the rot spread more aggressively until it consumes all of the roots.
The compromised roots lose their ability to transfer water and nutrients to the rest of the plant, and this lack of water and essential substances will weaken the plant and cause it to droop.
You can tell that a Calathea orbifolia is overwatered if its leaves are drooping and turning yellow. If you think this has happened with your plant, refrain from watering it immediately and move it to a sunnier spot with good airflow to help dry the soil out faster.
If you suspect root rot, remove the plant from its pot and wash the soil from its roots.
Inspect all of the roots, looking for sections that are brown or black in color. These roots are rotten; use a sterile pair of scissors to prune them off until only the healthy white roots remain.
Let the plant air-dry for a few hours before replanting it in fresh, well-draining potting mix in a pot with adequate drainage holes.
The best way to prevent overwatering in the future is by only watering the plant when the top two inches of soil are dry to the touch. If the soil is still damp, wait one or two days and then check it again.
Not enough water
Any situation that leads to your plant’s soil being completely depleted of moisture, such as neglecting to water it in time or using a potting mix that does not retain sufficient moisture, can cause the plant to dehydrate and droop.
Plants use water as a vessel to transport essential nutrients from the soil into their roots.
Thus, if the soil around the roots is dry, not only will the plant’s cells lose turgidity from the lack of moisture; it will also become nutrient-deficient.
The drooping of its leaves is the plant adapting to this lack of resources: it is choosing to sacrifice its leaves to save its stems and roots.
An underwatered Calathea orbifolia will present with dry, brown, crispy, curling leaves. The soil in the pot will be bone dry and crumbly. Try touching the soil through the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot: if the soil down there is just as dry as the soil on the surface, then your Calathea orbifolia is definitely dehydrated.
If you were able to spot the early signs of underwatering, your remedy may be as simple as giving the soil a generous soak from above. Water the soil until excess water flows from the pot’s drainage holes.
However, if the soil is so dry that it has become hydrophobic, or water repellent, watering from above is not going to cut it. You will need to bottom water your plant. Place it in a shallow basin filled with three inches of water and leave it there for 10 to 15 minutes. This will allow the thirsty soil and roots to absorb water through the pot’s drainage holes.
After 10 to 15 minutes, remove the pot and place it on a drying rack to let the excess water drip out before returning the plant to its usual spot.
Repeat this bottom watering process for the next four watering cycles and your dehydrated plant should make a full recovery.
Because Calathea orbifolia has rather large leaves, dirt and dust can settle on their surfaces and affect the plant’s ability to transpire, even possibly increasing their temperature.
The plant will lose moisture much faster and its roots might not be able to absorb water fast enough to compensate, in which case the leaves will droop.
To prevent your plant’s leaves from drooping due to increased temperature and transpiration, you will need to clean the leaves regularly. Use a damp cloth to wipe them down once a week, or at least every two weeks.
Hold the leaf over your open palm as you wipe it; this will reduce the risk of injuring the stem.
Adding neem oil to the damp cloth will help deter pests, so you can protect the plant at the same time as cleaning it.
Lack of humidity
Calathea orbifolia is a tropical plant that has evolved to flourish in the humid conditions of the South American rainforests. Its lush foliage is maintained by the high moisture content in its atmosphere.
If you live in a dry climate or if the plant is indoors during the winter when the air is quite dry, it will lose moisture faster than it should, and this will cause it to droop.
The signs of a Calathea orbifolia suffering from low humidity are very similar to the signs of underwatering. It will also present with brown, crispy, curling and drooping leaves.
To confirm that low humidity is the culprit, you can use a hygrometer to get an actual reading of the humidity level in the room where your plant is kept.
To help your plant, you will need to keep the room’s humidity level at 60 percent or higher.
To do this, you can place the pot on top of a tray filled with pebbles and water. As the water evaporates, the air around the plant will be moistened.
You can also keep the plant in the kitchen or the bathroom, because these are the most humid rooms in a house.
If you have other plants that also enjoy humidity, place your Calathea orbifolia next to them so that they create a microclimate around each other.
Finally, if you have the means, the easiest way to monitor and regulate the humidity around the plant is by using a humidifier.
The plant may be rootbound
If you do not repot your Calathea orbifolia for several years, its roots can get overgrown and fill the entire pot, growing in circles until they literally take on the shape of the pot.
When there is no more room for new roots to grow, they will start to displace more and more of the soil from the pot, so that the water you pour from above may not even make it down to the roots at the bottom.
Due to the general lack of water and nutrients, the plant’s leaves will begin to weaken and droop.
A rootbound Calathea orbifolia will initially look like it is simply underwatered, but if it also exhibits stunted growth and has roots growing out of the pot’s drainage holes, then it is most likely rootbound.
To confirm your suspicion, remove the plant from its pot and, if what you remove is mostly roots and little soil, your Calathea orbifolia has been rootbound for some time.
To save the plant, repot it in a bigger pot to accommodate all of its roots. Another alternative is to divide the plant carefully, making sure that each cutting has sufficient roots and stems. Plant these divided cuttings in their own pots and you have not only saved your plant, but you now have multiple Calathea orbifolia plants!
Transplant or repotting stress
When you transfer your plant from the ground into a pot, or when you repot it in a bigger pot, you are subjecting it to stress.
No matter how careful you are in removing the plant from its old potting medium, uprooting is a traumatic experience for any plant and there will always be damage to the roots – noticeable or otherwise.
If the damage to the roots is extensive, their ability to absorb water and nutrients can be affected. A significant loss of root function will mean that the remaining roots will need to work harder to provide moisture and nutrition to all of the plant’s foliage.
If the roots cannot fully support these needs, the plant will start to droop and lose its turgor.
The best you can do for a newly transplanted or repotted Calathea orbifolia is to give it the best possible care as it recovers. Be patient, and it will bounce back as soon as its roots have had time to heal and adjust to the new soil and pot.
Do not fertilize the plant immediately after repotting it, as the salts in the fertilizer can burn the roots and cause even more problems.
As long as you water the plant correctly and expose it to the right kind of light, it should make a full recovery within a month.
Calathea orbifolia is a beautiful tropical plant native to Bolivia. It has large, round, dark green leaves with silvery stripes running through them.
Drooping is one of the most common problems encountered when growing Calathea orbifolia as a houseplant. The possible causes of this include too much water, not enough water, dust on the leaves, lack of humidity, the plant being rootbound, and transplant or repotting stress.
The best way to avoid all of these problems is by doing your best to simulate the plant’s native living conditions in your own home. If you manage to do this, your Calathea orbifolia should always be healthy and thriving.
Image: istockphoto.com / Benoitbruchez