For every normally green plant there seems to be a variegated counterpart. Variegated plants are often striped, but may also appear in irregular patterns of white, cream, yellow and even pink. To me, variegation puts a new spin on old favorites. You probably have a variegated plant in your own landscape. There is a whole universe of variegated plants to explore and collect.
Variegation is a common condition in plants, and you can see it all over our landscapes – think variegated New Zealand flax lily, cast iron plants, Ficus, bromeliads, shell ginger, canna lilies, ornamental grasses, citrus, Asiatic jasmine, hibiscus, golden dewdrop, etc. Once in a while, you can find variegated clusia, bananas, and Natal plums. I have even seen a variegated wild coffee in person and a picture of a variegated loquat! Without getting too deep here, as a definition, variegation can be natural and manifest stable patterns via selected genetics, it can be caused by a random mutation, spawned by benign viruses, or even just a natural coloration. Variegated sections of plants do not make chlorophyll and depend on the green portions to survive. Some of these mutations can be unstable in what are called chimeras. Chimeras sport splotches of white, cream-colored or yellow intermingled with the normal green portions. On occasion, some variegated plants will have a vigorous green portion spontaneously develop which can outgrow the less vigorous variegated portions. These green reversions should be pruned out as they can overtake the whole plant eventually rendering the variegated portion minimized.
The virus-induced variegation example is noted in a type of Abutilon also known as Flowering Maple – a member of the hibiscus family. The variegation is in a mosaic pattern where the green-maple-shaped leaves are speckled with angular yellow splotches nicely complemented with orange flowers. Viruses normally damage plants, but this plant seems to manage and thrive as an ornamental coexisting with this “disease”.
One last type of variegation to mention is a natural condition called reflective variegation. In this case, variegation is caused when air pockets under the leaf membrane appear as shiny spots or patches which reflect light giving a silvery appearance. Certain pothos plants and begonias are noted examples. This type of variegation does not seem to be disrupt chlorophyll within these plants.
Again, while most variegated plants are less vigorous than their all-green relatives, they can still be managed as attractive ornamentals in the landscape or containerized. Some variegated plants are rare collector’s items, so expect to pay more for certain specimens. Others, such as variegated dwarf schefflera and New Zealand flax lilies, are common and abundant in the market making them relatively affordable. In either case, and depending on the type of plant, a plethora of variegated plants is out there ready to be discovered and incorporated into your garden! For more information on all types of plants, you can also call the Master Gardener Volunteer Helpdesk on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for UF/IFAS Extension – Charlotte County. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Connect with us on social media. Like us on Facebook @CharlotteCountyExtension and follow us on Instagram @ifascharco.
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Winter, N. (2000) Variegated Plants Shine In Gardens. Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center – Mississippi State University Extension Service.
Klingaman, G.(1999) Plant of the Week: Variegated Flowering Maple (Variegated Chinese Lantern Plant). Cooperative Extension Service – University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
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Stein, G. (2011) Variegation in Plants. Dave’s Garden. https://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/3423