Which one is it? Stromanthe Triostar or Ctenanthe Tricolour?
Once you know what to look for, the difference between a Stromanthe Triostar and Ctenanthe Tricolour become super obvious (and we cover what a Calathea Triostar is too). If you get your hands on the 'wrong' one you may be disappointed - and may have paid 'too much' (no such thing as too much if that's what it's worth to you though - no judgement!). Of course if you were knowingly mislead that your pricey Stromanthe Triostar is actually a Ctenanthe Tricolour, that's a different story. Let's find out below...
Right now in New Zealand, Stromanthe Triostar are fetching $150 to $200 a plant for the smaller 10cm to 12cm size, more the big guys. Sometimes wrongly called Calathea Triostar or Calathea Tricolour (no such thing on both fronts - but close!). However if you end up with the Ctenanthe oppenheimiana Tricolour, you might be left wondering why you're not getting those big patches of creamy peachy pink that glow hot pink when back-lit, like the ones you see in your Instagram feed. Nothing against the Ctenanthe, still a gorgeous plant with pink potential that I'd welcome more of in my personal collection, just not normally close to the extreme level of 'pinkness' and variegation a Stromanthe can offer.
Yes, this is a trending plant right now. Was it ever not? Maybe my own obsession with them means I'm noticing them more lately (that and my TradeMe notifications). Unfortunately the Stromanthe Triostar is not common enough in NZ to see in stores on the regular (if at all), although lately they've have been turning up more and more on TradeMe - not that it's helping the price come down!
In stores you may find the slightly more common Ctenanthe oppenheimiana 'Tricolour' turn up every so often - but even then we've seen that labelled wrong in stores - and most definitely wrong in Google. Try a Google image search for 'Stromanthe Triostar' or 'Ctenanthe Tricolour' and have fun playing spot the difference (after you're clued up on the differences below of course - you'll be an expert!).
What are the differences between Stromanthe Triostar and Ctenanthe Tricolour?
Okay. Let's clear up this confusion once and for all. Take a look below at the 3 key differences between the Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar' and the Ctenanthe oppenheimiana 'Tricolour' - along with photos to help you compare.
Firstly, here's a superb side by side of the two. The differences aren't always this dramatic but this is a great comparison...
Ctenanthe 'Tricolour' left - Stromanthe 'Triostar' right.
This image is copyright Jenni Milner, a kiwi who shares my same desire to help educate about the differences. Shared here with Jenni's permission (thank you again!).
1. Compare the green areas
Where the Ctenanthe is green, you'll see alternating patches of a lighter almost silver-green, then darker green. On those lighter areas, you'll also see fine dark lines. Compare that to the darker green patches on a Stromanthe which are almost solid, and the lighter areas are missing those fine dark pin-stripes.
This photo below shows those silver and darker green alternating patches, and the fine dark pin-stripe lines on the paler green patches. This one's a Ctenanthe oppenheimiana 'Tricolour'.
2. Compare the midrib
The midrib on a leaf is that bigger central vein that runs up the middle. Another sure giveaway when comparing these two is the midrib. On Stromanthe Triostar where there's green by the midrib, there's a soft glow effect, due to the paler green by the midrib. Sometimes you can barely see the midrib at all. On the Ctenanthe however, it's well defined, like a pale pin stripe, easy to see, and when there's green beside the midrib, there's no pale 'glow' like the Stromanthe.
Compare the midrib of the Stromanthe Triostar and Ctenanthe Tricolour in Jenni's side-by-side photo above which shows the midrib differences really well. You can see that 'glow' in this photo below from Behnke Nurseries too.
Compare the midrib of the Stromanthe above to the Ctenanthe below. Note no 'glow' along the midrib and the fine pin stripes on the silvery areas too below. This Ctenanthe photo comes from suncoastaustralia.com
3. Compare the pink
Another sign is the amount of creamy pink variegation. This is not as reliable a way to compare though, hence being 3rd on the list. You can get some very green leaves on the Stromanthe, but if you're expecting those big patches of cream that glow hot pink when back-lit, the Stromanthe's the one you want. The Ctenanthe sometimes throws out a stunner of a leaf too (there's a goodie below), and some plants in general are more variegated than others, but it's not as common as the Stromanthe. Overall the Ctenanthe Tricolour tends to be a lot more green than the Stromanthe Triostar.
Here's a particularly variegated leaf on a Ctenanthe Tricolour below. You can still see that well defined midrib line with no soft glow, those darker pin stripes in the silvery pale green areas, and the alternating darker and lighter green striped patches:
What's a Calathea Triostar or Calathea Tricolour?
Well, it's just 'not'. Both Calathea and Stromanthe come from the maranteceae family, but they're a separate genus. Like Calathea, Stromanthe do move their leaves around a lot, towards and away from the light, and can fold them up at night, but there isn't officially a plant called the 'Calathea Triostar' or 'Calathea Tricolour'.
I hope that helps clear up the confusion for you so you can play 'spot the difference' yourself, and bid and buy with confidence. You are very welcome to share this article to help show others the differences too, especially when sellers accidentally get it wrong and unintentionally mislead others. There's nothing wrong with the gorgeous Ctenanthe, I'd happily add another to my collection at the right price, but I'm a firm believer in making informed decisions (and informed purchases).
Last, but certainly not least before you go, I'll leave you with a Stromanthe from my personal collection below. She was looking particularly stunning this day, fanning her leaves out with an all-pink new leaf on the way (believe me, she has some days her leaves are in such bizarre positions she looks like a totally different plant).
PS: If you want to go on the waiting list for one of these beauties, pop your details on the Stromanthe waiting list here and I'll let you know when I have them available again.