Plant Variegation 101

Plant Variegation 101

There are a vast number of unique plants that boast eye-catching colours and textures that often make you take a second look and wonder: is it real or is it fake?

The patterns, colours, and textures that plants have is often defined as variegation. What is variegation, you ask? Well, it is essentially any plant that is two-toned or multi-tonal, meaning the plant has multiple colours. The eye-catching blocks of colour appear on the stems, leaves, fruit, or flowers and can be circles, stripes, spots, and other shapes. This definitely makes you think just how beautiful our world truly is.

There are a few factors that cause variegation and create the patterns we’ve all been known to love and enjoy. Hello Watermelon Peperomia and Golden Pothos! The cause of variegation is usually due to the lack of chlorophyll in some plants cells. Chlorophyll is the green colour found in plants and it is used in the process of photosynthesis - where plants gather light to produce energy. When plants produce completely white foliage, the leaves usually don’t last very long as the plant cannot photosynthesize.

Variegated plants are often bred to produce those unique colours as it is a highly desirable plant trait and often raises the market value of the plant. Take theMonstera deliciosa ‘Thai Constellation’ for example.

Although variegation is highly sought-after and those high market value plants are all over Instagram, there are different types of variegation that are often overlooked.

Here are four common types of variegation:

Chimeral Variegation

The chimeral variegation is often caused by genetic mutation. Some plant cells are unable to synthesize chlorophyll, and generally produce variegation in new growth. Greenhouse growers can induce chimera by exposure to radiation or chemical treatments. Some chimeral variegation can be spontaneous - what a wonderful surprise! Within the chimeral variegation, you receive stable or unstable variegations. This explains why some plants revert back to their original solid green form such as the Philodendron ‘Birkin’. If you begin to notice your plant is reverting back to its original form, remove the reverting solid green foliage and place your plant in a location with bright, indirect light.

Virus Induced Variegation

This variegation is typically caused by viruses such as the tobacco mosaic virus. The virus creates chlorosis (yellow and green patterns) on the leaves which are commonly the characteristics of the virus that is present. Unfortunately, the effects of the virus are often unwanted, and although incredibly beautiful, they can cause plant decline and sometimes death. Which is definitely not the ideal variegation you’re looking for!

Leaf Blister or Reflective Variegation

This is one of the most unique types of variegation. It often looks like the plant is sparkling! The plant gives off a silvery appearance. This is due to reflective air pockets that form in between the layers of the plant cell which is how “leaf blister variegation” came about. For example, the Satin Pothos has shiny, reflective variegation that looks as though it is dancing in the light.

Pattern or Natural Variegation

This natural variegation also occurs without any human intervention. This variegation is already in the plant makeup and will always be variegated. For example, Peacock Calathea has beautiful patterns on its leaves, will never lose its variegation, and the new growth will always have the same beautiful pattern as the mature leaves.

Variegation is a highly sought-after plant trait. It’s a super exciting way to incorporate different varieties and cultivars of your favourite plant in your urban jungle! Next time you see a plant, try identifying its type of variegation.