How To Maintain Variegated Plants: Prevent Reverting and Grow Beautiful Houseplants

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Variegated plants are a captivating addition to any indoor garden or houseplant collection. With their unique patterns of colored and glittering patches on their leaves, variegated plants can bring a touch of elegance and vibrancy to your living space. However, maintaining these plants and preventing them from reverting to their non-variegated forms can be a challenge. In this article, we will explore the world of variegated plants, including what variegation is, the types of variegation, stable vs. unstable variegation, natural vs. unnatural variegation, how to cause variegation, and how to keep variegation. 

What is Variegation?

Variegation is a fascinating phenomenon that occurs when certain areas of a plant’s leaves or stems have a different color from the rest of the plant. This unique coloration is a result of variations in pigmentation, often caused by genetic mutations or environmental factors. Variegation is often used to refer to white or yellow patches on green leaves or multiple shades of green on a single leaf. Variegation however refers to the sparkles on leaves and any variation of color aside from the normal solid color of the foliage. 

Types of Variegation

There are many types of variegation and the type of variegation will determine the care and how you can retain it or reduce it as needed. 

Chimeric Variegation: 

This is when a plant has a genetic mutation and develops two or more types of chromosomes in one plant. This is how you can get plants like the Pink Princess Philodendron or the Monstera Thai Constellation. The variegation is genetic and how it is spread visually throughout the plant will vary depending on the genes of the plant for each leaf. This is how one leaf can be a half-moon while the next one might only have a speck of coloration. It is this randomness that many plant parents try to tame and hack but chimeral variegation is incredibly difficult to control. The plant generally does what it will unless it is tissue cultured and a direct clone of the parent plant but even that can be difficult to achieve. 

Pattern-Gene Variegation: 

This is when a specific plant has a specific uniquely identifying leaf pattern that is always the same. A maranta like the rabbit’s tracks or red-veined maranta is a prime example. The pattern is distinctively the same on every leaf and the plant can be positively identified by that leaf every time. That pattern can then be bred to other specific pattern gene variegation plants to produce further patterned plants. 

Reflective Variegation:

This is a naturally occurring phenomenon where certain conditions cause the plant to create blister or unstressed pockets in between its skin layers and it produces a coloration or reflective surface. Scindapsus, Hoya, and Begonia are prime examples of this type of variegation. 

Viral Variegation:

This is where a virus specifically attacks the plant’s foliage and creates a variegation usually in a specific pattern. This can be done intentionally and doesn’t harm the plant or it can be a virus-like mosaic that is detrimental and contagious. It is important to research and know the difference. 

Stable Variegation vs. Unstable Variegation

Stable variegation refers to the type of variegation that remains consistent and doesn’t revert to the plant’s original form over time. Pattern gene variegation is a stable form of variegation. 

 Unstable variegation, on the other hand, is more prone to revert to the non-variegated form. Understanding the stability of variegation in your plant is crucial for its long-term maintenance. Chimeric variegation is generally the most unstable and can fully revert. Some chimeral variegation is more stable than others. It all depends on the genetics. Reflective Variegation can be stable to an extent and not fully revert. However, think of Tradescantia and how they lose their color in low light and become more variegated in the light. This means to an extent the variegation is unstable and contingent on specific conditions to hold it. 

Natural vs. Unnatural Variegation

Natural variegation: occurs due to genetic mutations or environmental factors that affect a plant’s pigmentation naturally. Also, natural variegation can include specific breeding programs or conditions to induce specific genetic mutations such as bright lights or varying temperatures. 

Unnatural variegation: on the other hand, is often induced by horticulturists, botanists, or gardeners through techniques such as tissue culture, virus introduction, or chemical induction. 

This is important to note because certain unnatural variegation can cause temporary variegation like with the Philodendron pink congo or specific dying techniques like the ones used to make blue orchids and purple Philodendron leaves. These are all not stable with temporary variegation and usually, only last a few months to a year leaving a non-variegated and sometimes unhealthy plant.

Tissue culture though unnatural is not a bad thing. It takes a part of the plant and puts it in a specific chemical gel to have the plant grow quickly from that tiny chunk. This creates an exact copy of the plant that was in that chunk. If the variegation was good in that piece and it was a healthy plant then you have an inexpensive highly variegated healthy plant. Most plants today are tissue-cultured. The stability depends on the genetics of that original plant. 

How to Cause Variegation

While natural variegation can’t be induced on-demand, you can experiment with breeding programs, environmental conditions and unnatural variegation techniques to create unique and stunning variegated plants. 

Please note: Do not attempt to tissue culture without a proper lab and training though because it can grow any fungus and bacteria or unknowns that were in the sample. As well as cause you damage from the chemicals used. 

Vareigation Descriptions 

There are specific ways variegation can present and sometimes people have a specific preference or are looking for a specific type so here are some words to help you describe the variegation your plant has. 

Sectoral Variegation: Where your plant had specific segments like half the leaf or a quarter of the leaf will be that specific other color. A monstera albo or pink princess Philodendron for example. Specific chunks of the foliage is sectioned off to be a specific color. 

Marginate Variegation: This is when the outer edges of a leaf is variegated but not the center.

Speckled Variegation: where the pattern of variegation is randomly dispersed in small amounts throughout the leaf such as with a  monstera thai constellation. 

These descriptions of variegation are just ways to describe the visual representation of the variegation for preference and are no indication of stability or not in a plant. 

How to Keep Variegation

Once you have a variegated plant, it’s essential to take proper care to maintain its unique coloration. Here are some factors to pay attention to:

1. Light Requirements: Variegated plants often require bright, indirect light. Avoid exposing them to direct sunlight, as this can scorch their delicate leaves depending on the type of variegation. Be sure to take the time to acclimate your plants to prevent burned foliage and loss of variegation. 

2. Temperature and Humidity:  Maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels. Variegated plants, especially tropical varieties, thrive in a humid environment and variegation can be temperature-dependent. A cooler or warmer temperature can produce more or less variation depending on the plant. This is especially true with Peperomia and Philodendron. 

3. Fertilization: Use a balanced, diluted fertilizer during the growing season to provide essential nutrients to your variegated plant. Plants lacking necessary micronutrients are more likely to revert or not hold their variegation. 

4. Pruning: Regularly trim away any non-variegated growth that may appear depending on the plant. For chimeric variegated plants, this can help to maintain the plant’s variegation and encourage new growth in that coloration. Be sure to research this for the specific plant you are caring for. Pruning is not always going to help and can hinder some plant’s growth. 

Variegated plants are a captivating addition to your indoor garden, offering a touch of nature’s artistry to your living space. Understanding variegation types, stability, and care techniques is crucial to keeping these plants thriving and maintaining their unique beauty. Whether you’re a seasoned plant enthusiast or a beginner, variegated plants can be a rewarding and visually appealing addition to your collection. So, go ahead and explore the world of variegated plants, and enjoy the vibrant, colorful, and unique presence they bring into your home.

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