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HerbaceousSpecies Plant

Calathea lutea

Calathea lutea

The cigar calathea or cuban cigar, Havana cigar, mexican cigar plant (Calathea lutea (Aubl.) E.Mey. ex Schult., 1822) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Marantaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain;
Kingdom Plantae;
Division Magnoliophyta;
Class Liliopsida;
Zingiberales Order;
Family Marantaceae;
Calathea genus,
C. lutea species.
The terms are synonymous:
– Calathea cachibou (Jacq.) Lindl.;
– Calathea cachibou (Jacq.) Lindl. ex Horan.;
– Calathea discolor G.Mey.;
– Calathea lutea (Aubl.) E.Mey.;
– Calathea lutea (Aubl.) G.Mey.;
– Calathea magnifica C.V.Morton & Skutch;
– Maranta argentea W.Bull;
– Maranta cachibou Jacq.;
– Maranta casupo Jacq.;
– Maranta disticha Buc’hoz;
– Maranta lutea Aubl.;
– Phrynium casupo (Jacq.) Roscoe;
– Phrynium luteum (Aubl.) Sweet;
– Phyllodes lutea (Aubl.) Kuntze.

Etymology –
The term Calathea derives from the Greek “kalathos”, meaning basket, without however a clear reference.
The specific epithet lutea comes from the Latin “luteus, a, um”, i.e. yellow in reference to the color of the inflorescences.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Calathea lutea is a plant that grows in tropical American countries and is native to an area that includes: Venezuelan Antilles, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil (Acre, Amazonas, Amapá, Pará, Roraima, Rondônia and Tocantins), Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Dominica, Jamaica, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, French Guiana, Honduras, Windward Islands, Leeward Islands, Martinique, Mexico (Campeche, Ciapas, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Yucatán), Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Venezuela.
The habitat of this plant, which is quite common, is that of unsheltered disturbed sites or in marshy areas and along the rivers of the Atlantic and central-northern areas; at an altitude of 0 to 300 m (up to 900 m in Boaco, Nicaragua), where it flowers and bears fruit all year round, but mainly from February to May, although they also resist 2,000 meters, as in eastern Antioquia and Coffee Region in Colombia.

Description –
Calathea lutea is a herbaceous, rhizomatous perennial, evergreen plant, which forms dense tufts 2-4 (5) m high, with a pseudo-stem made up of overlapping leaf sheaths.
The leaves are borne by a 1.2-2 m long petiole; they are alternate, simple, ovate to elliptical in shape, with a sharply pointed apex; they are 30-100 cm long and 20-60 cm wide, leathery, of a shiny light green color above and covered with a thick white bloom below.
The floral scape emerges from the leaf sheath for a length of 6-18 cm and ends with a more or less flattened spike inflorescence, 10-30 cm long and 3-5 cm wide, made up of 5-12 imbricated leathery bracts arranged in a spiral , ovate, 3.5-5 cm long, initially yellowish in color, tending over time to bronze or reddish brown; the bracts enclose short-lived tubular flowers, about 4 cm long, with whitish to light yellow staminodes and purple-brown petals.
The fruits are ovoid capsules.
Inside there are 3 seeds with fleshy orange aril.

Cultivation –
Calathea lutea is a vigorously growing evergreen perennial plant whose leaves are collected by the local population and used for straw, as a source of wax, etc.; furthermore the plant is also cultivated as an ornamental.
It is a plant of tropical areas that can be grown in subtropical areas if protected during the cool season.
In the tropics, plants flower and bear fruit throughout the year, but especially at the beginning of the rainy season.
Where the climate does not allow permanent cultivation outdoors, it can be grown in large containers to be sheltered in the colder months in a bright place with temperatures above 16 °C, regular watering, but without stagnation and allowing the surface layer of the soil to dry before watering again, and fertilizing with slow release products.
The plant is widespread throughout tropical Central and South America, with a great ornamental effect due to its compact tufts and large leaves in which the silvery white of the lower surface stands out, cultivable in tropical and humid subtropical climate zones both in full sun and in partial shade.
From a pedological point of view it requires soils rich in organic substance that are well drained, aerated and kept humid.
The plant reproduces by seed and easily by dividing rhizomes to be buried at a depth of 3-4 cm. Alternatively, the rhizomes can be extracted from the ground and stored in sand or dry peat to be replanted in spring.

Customs and Traditions –
Calathea lutea is a plant known by various names, including: cigar calathea, cuban cigar, Havana cigar, mexican cigar plant (English); biao, bihao, bijagua, bijao, bihao, hoja blanca, hoja de cuero, hoja de sal, hoja de piedra, hoja de to, maxan, pampano, platanillo (Spanish); cachibou, cauassú (Portuguese Brazil).
This plant was first described in 1775 by the French botanist Jean Baptiste Fusee-Aublet. It is a plant that grows in the American tropics, whose leaves are used, in some countries, to wrap tamales, hallacas and other soft foods.
The leaves of this plant, in fact, are used to wrap food which is commonly called fiambre or zarapa, it is also used as packaging for tamales in Antioquia and Santander, and for sweets and beech in the Caribbean region (Colombia and/or Venezuela ), for juanes in Moyobamba and Tarapoto (Peru), as well as in the preparation of ayampaco and maito in Ecuador and occasionally for roofing. Furthermore, the juice of its rhizome and stems has a great diuretic value.
In Panama it is used to wrap tamales, both old and new corn; to wrap the Mono, a complete food from the Chiriquí area and, sometimes, the sweet panela.
Furthermore, a valuable wax is extracted from the leaves.
The wax has high quality characteristics comparable to that, known as carnauba, extracted from the leaves of Copernicia prunifera, and could be exploited commercially given the speed of growth and ease of cultivation of the plant and harvesting of the waxy layer.
The inflorescences are long-lasting even when cut, therefore suitable for floral compositions.

Preparation Method –
Calathea lutea is a plant used both for food purposes and for the use of leaves, the extraction of wax or for ornamental purposes.
A wax is extracted from the leaves; furthermore these are very resistant and durable once dry; above all they were once used to cover with straw and to wrap objects, to make waterproof baskets.
Furthermore, the leaves are used, in some countries, to wrap tamales, hallacas and other soft foods.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.

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Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.

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