If you don’t live under a rock, you must know that houseplants with variegated leaves drive everyone insane. These plants have suddenly risen in popularity in the United States over the past few years. They have always been a favorite for plant enthusiasts, but now everyone and their mother wants one.
What Are Variegated Leaves?
The word variegated originates from the Latin “varius,” meaning various. To variegate something means to make it more diverse, especially in terms of color.
Variegated leaves are leaves that are green and at least one more color. Common colors of leaf variegation include cream, white, and yellow, while rarer colors like red, pink, and purple are also available. The green part of the leaf has the photosynthetic pigment, chlorophyll.
The parts colored differently have non-photosynthetic pigments or no pigment at all. So now you know. what is variegation in leaves?
Why Do Some Plants Have Variegated Leaves?
We do not know why some plant species evolved to have variegated leaves. Cell mutations cause the variegation in leaves. Some parts of the leaf lose pigmentation entirely, or other bright pigments cover the green color.
The entire leaf can become colored like the oxalis plant or just sections of the leaf-like the coleus plant.
It can also cause other plant parts to show variegation, like the stem or fruit. However, we cannot pinpoint exactly what triggers the cells to mutate.
There are some species in which the variegation is true from seed, like the leaves of the sweet iris or Iris pallida.
However, in many plants, variegation is an individual mutation propagated by cuttings of successfully variegated parts of plants.
Some grafted plants show chimeral variegation because they share tissues with other plants. Grafting plants to show variegated leaves is a difficult to impossible task. However, some grafted plants show variegated leaves by happy accidents.
Some gardeners experiment with various ways to variegate the leaves of plants purposefully.
Do Variegated Leaves Perform Photosynthesis?
Yes, the green parts have chlorophyll and make their own food. Even the red and purple parts of variegated have chlorophyll. The green color gets covered with the other pigments. They still perform photosynthesis.
However, the red or purple color prevents some chlorophyll from getting sunlight. You can imagine it like the leaves are wearing sunglasses.
Do Plants Benefit From Variegated Leaves?
If leaves have patches without chlorophyll or dampened chlorophyll, they must produce less food. Why are leaves variegated? Why would such a mutation survive natural selection? We can tell you the benefits that plants have due to their variegation.
Some insects and animals have evolved patterns on their bodies that create optical illusions to confuse predators. For example, owl butterflies found in the rainforests of Central and South America have spots on their wings that look like big eyes. Predators steer clear of them, thinking they are some large animal.
Plants with white variegated leaves protect themselves from infestation by leaf-mining insects. The white spots make them look like leaf miners have already attacked them, so the parasites ignore them.
White Variegation reflects the sunlight more efficiently. That reduces the temperature experienced by the plants. We feel cooler in a white shirt than a dark shirt for the same reason. That is also why some people paint their roofs white.
Red or purple variegation does not reflect light as white patches do, but it acts like a sunshade for the leaf. This type of variegation also keeps the temperature cool for plants.
Variegation, especially red, pink, orange, and purple, helps attract pollinators like bees, moths, and butterflies. The pollinating insects react to these leaves the same way they do to similarly colored flowers.
That is why true-from-seed variegated plants have successfully reproduced and spread far and wide.
Does Your Houseplant Have Variegated Leaves, or Is It Ill?
Plants can also be variegated if infected by some virus or leaf-mining insects. Insect infestation is easy to identify so you can quarantine plants quickly. The edges of the leaves will have turned brown, and parts of the plant will look eaten off.
Viral infections like the tobacco mosaic virus are a little more difficult to identify. You can get your plant tested professionally or at home with a viral testing kit. So don’t celebrate too soon next time one of your seedlings shows variegation. You must quarantine it for a while until you are sure.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to toss your plant away if its variegation is from being infected by parasites or a virus. We recommend burning the plant matter to avoid spreading the infection to other plants outside.
How to Keep Variegation in Plants
If your variegated plant starts to grow fully green leaves, you must trim them off so they don’t dominate the plant. Since these leaves produce more food, the plant may prefer them over the variegated leaves.
It’s a good idea to give such plants more sunlight. When they get enough sunlight to the variegated leaves, they will not need to produce more fully green leaves.
If you live in a place with limited sunlight, like New Hampshire, Vermont, or Washington, consider only buying true from seed variegated species or getting indoor plant lamps. That way, you can control how much light your variegated plants get.
Popular Houseplants With Variegated Leaves
We’ve compiled a list of popular houseplants with variegated leaves you can display in your home. Go through each category and pick your favorites wherever you are staying like Houston, Seattle, Washington, Texas, New Jersey, etc.
Houseplant With Long Variegated Leaves
You can’t go wrong with a variegated plant with long leaves if you want a dramatic centerpiece for your living room. Here are some of our recommendations for this category:
The Croton Mammy red or Codiaeum variegatum is a stunning `green, orange, and purple tropical evergreen shrub. It has long ovate leaves that twist and curl to produce beautiful visual effects.
While there are many croton plants with multicolored leaves, this one is especially breathtaking due to its curling leaves.
This plant does not tolerate drought, frost, shade, or excessive light. You must place it in a room with bright light. Bright light does not mean direct sunlight. If you expose the plant to too much sun, its beautiful foliage will dry up.
Provide moist, well-draining soil to hydrate with ample water without causing root rot and plants to die. Keep it at a stable temperature between sixty and seventy degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature goes below a certain number, it will damage the plant. If your plant is outside, you can bring it inside during the winter or all year round.
Dracaena fragrans, also known as the jade jewel, is a slow-growing flowering shrub. It can grow up to fifty feet tall. The length, of course, needs to be managed when you grow it indoors. It has beautiful long variegated white and green leaves with tapered ends. The leaves are a rich dark green with white stripes in the middle.
This drought-tolerant plant produces lovely scented flowers that attract pollinating insects.
You must keep it in a bright space but never give it too much direct sunlight. Ensure that you only water it once the soil is completely dry. It needs a little humidity so remember to spray it from time to time or leave a humidity tray full of water near it.
The spider plant or Chlorophytum comosum is a perennial herbaceous flowering plant with very long thin leaves. The strap-like leaves originate from a central point and have white stripes in the center of green leaves. The spider plant has small white-colored flowers that bloom in the summer. These interesting-looking plants need partial shade in a bright room.
They like their soil to have goldilocks perfection when it comes to watering. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and never let it dry.
It needs to be fertilized every fourteen days in the summer and spring, which is its active growing season.
Houseplant With Small Variegated Leaves
If you want your plants to impact with their coloration and prefer dainty plants, these are the ones for you. Check out these amazing houseplants with small variegated leaves.
The Pothos Epipremnem aureum is a climbing plant with variegation on the outside border of the leaf, while the inside is green. Quiet, the opposite of the spider plant and jade jewel.
It has small leaves, but its vines grow long. This plant will look great in a hanging planter, showing off its climbing growth habit.
Variegated pothos is becoming wildly popular for the beautiful watercolor-esque gold or cream variegation on its small leaves. Pothos variegation appears in many types, including irregular dots, stripes, patches, and wavy lines. Pothos are fast growers, so you’ll quickly have more variegated leaves to look at and enjoy.
Pothos need plenty of bright indirect sunlight to keep their variegation. You must ensure that its leaves are not scorched by harsh direct sunlight. They do not need overly wet soil. Let the soil dry out between waterings.
The temperature should be between sixty-five and eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit with sixty percent humidity.
Polka Dot Plant
Hypoestes phyllostachys is an amazing small variegated leaf plant. The leaves are ovated with point-shaped tips, a pink base, and green dots.
This herbaceous perennial is native to Madagascar. It produces small pink or lilac flowers that bloom during the summer or early fall.
The polka dot plant does not grow very large. It needs a good mix of moist, well-draining, slightly acidic soil. To ensure the soil has good drainage, add some perlite into the soil mix and fill the bottom of the pot with pebbles.
The plant can tolerate low light, but the variegation becomes affected. Like most plants mentioned in today’s list, the polka dot plant needs plenty of bright indirect sunlight.
These plants need to be watered in a way that doesn’t leave them too thirsty nor saturates the soil with water. So use your finger to keep checking the soil. You mustn’t let it dry out, nor must you overwater it. Overwatering leads to root rot.
Polka dot plants like temperatures above sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Fertilize your plant once a month and keep them in a fifty percent humid area.
Houseplant With Large Variegated Leaves
Large leaves have more surface area for amazing variegated patterns. If you want a showstopper for your plant collection, look no further. Here are some of our recommendations.
The king begonia, also known as the rex begonia, is a semi-tropical herbaceous perennial native to Asia. Specifically to Northern India or Southern China. It has large heart-shaped leaves. These begonias are grown solely for their foliage but also to produce flowers.
There are many known cultivars of this type of begonia. Each has different colored variegation, ranging from silvers, purples, reds, and golds. To get the best leaf color, you must diligently care for these begonias.
They must get a ton of indirect bright sunlight. Remember to rotate the leaves so that all sides get enough light. Keep the humidity and temperature constant. That means day and night time temperatures shouldn’t vary much,
They need plenty of watering, but the soil must be porous, light, and well-drained. Begonias do not handle root rot well. If you do not do all this, your begonia will still survive, but it might not show its best color.
On the expensive side, the rare and popular variegated Monstera is hard to get your hands on. The most popular variety is the cream and green Monstera Deliciosa Variegata. Growers cultivate these plants in abundance in hopes of catching a mutation. One in a hundred thousand chance of getting a single variegated mutation.
The variegated versions of the plants are then processed to make cutting which growers propagate to form duplicates of the variegated plant. The variegated versions of Monstera get less sunlight, so they grow much slower.
To take care of a variegated monstera plant, treat it like a regular monstera plant except let it get more bright indirect light.
There you go, now you know almost everything we know about variegated plants. We hope you enjoyed this list and picked some new plant friends!
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Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.