Philodendron burle marx variegated leaves

What is Variegation?

dimitri • June 24, 2022 • 2 min read

There’s more to this eye-catching characteristic than you may think.

Variegated plants are some of the most eye-catching varieties around, whether their patterns are bold like a monstera deliciosa, or softer, like a marble queen pothos. But leaf variegation is more than just a pretty pattern, and it can have a number of causes depending on the type of plant it appears on.

Variegation varieties

Variegation takes the form of those white, yellow, or other colorful markings in a plant caused by a cellular mutation. That mutation means some of the plant’s cells don’t produce chlorophyll, which would normally turn them green.

Why this mutation occurs just depends on the plant. There are three main categories:

  1. Pattern-gene variegation: Plants with this kind of variegation have the pattern built into their DNA and can pass the trait on, so growers can harness it and produce patterned plants reliably.
  2. Chimeral variegation: This variegation style is the most common, caused by a genetic mutation that creates two distinct genetic makeups in the same plant. One of these genes is coded to produce chlorophyll and the other is not, so an otherwise green leaf develops all those splotches and swirls you just love to look at. Think variegated monstera deliciosa for a solid example of a chimera.
  3. Reflective variegation: Sometimes called blister variegation, plants with this kind of variegation actually have small air pockets within the leaves that appear to reflect light (the satin pothos falls into this category).

A little extra TLC

Because variegated plants have less chlorophyll in their leaves, they tend to need more sunlight in order to meet their nutritional needs. Chlorophyll is a major part of the photosynthesis process, so variegated plants have to provide themselves the same amount of food with a lot less of the raw materials to make it. Extra light is a big help.

However, don’t shove these shade lovers directly into the sun. The white or colorful portions of the leaves can sunburn easily, so indirect bright light is still best. Also keep an eye on your plant’s leaves for signs of pests — variegated beauties tend to attract spider mites more often than their green cousins. The white sections of their foliage can also be susceptible to browning if your water has trace minerals in it, so using distilled water is the safest way to preserve those pristine patterns.

No matter the type of variegation a plant has, keeping these rules of care in mind can help it flourish.

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