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Variegation Explained

What is Variegation?

The term “variegated” comes from the word variegatus in Latin which means composed of various colors and the appearance of these different colours show on zones of leaves and the stems. Often the plant will be two toned (bi-coloured) with the foliage being blotched, striped or border with a lighter different colour than the leaf. Less common is the foliage being tri-coloured and this will only happen with a small group of plants. The term is also used to refer to colour zonation in flowers, minerals, skin, fur, feathers or even scales on animals.  

Interestingly enough, some plants that are variegated will have different colours in different seasons. For example, the Lysimachia punctata 'Alexander', also known as the yellow loosestrife, is a variegated plant that in early spring will have pink and green leaves and turn white and green in the summer when the leaves have matured. 

There is no question that plants that are variegated are absolutely beautiful, unusual and very unique, but why does this happen?

What causes variegation in plants and keeping your variegated plants colourful

Variegation can happen for a few reasons, the most common reason being a cell mutation of the plant from the lack of the green pigment found in chlorophyll. The plant’s variegation can be inherited (genetic) or can occur randomly (chimeric). 

A variegated plant can turn back to its original form of all green foliage. It can be a reaction to very extreme temperature changes from hot to cold and vice-versa or a reaction changing levels of light in their environment. Therefore, if you are wanting to keep the coloured leaves, keeping your variegated plant in a pot that is easily moveable will let you be able to adjust your plants environment easily. Variegated plants need more sun than solid green plants because they don’t have as much chlorophyll to absorb sunlight. If you’re growing a variegated plant, leave it near a sunny window or a bright spot on your property so it absorbs enough sun to stay healthy.

The reverting of variation could also be a form of a survival technique as a plant is the strongest when it has high levels of chlorophyll, creating that green vibrant leaves.

Propagating and pruning

If the mutation is genetic, then by propagating a fully green leaf, the variegation can occur once the propagation has matured. However, if the mutation is chimeric, then you can propagate a variegated plant successfully by taking a variegated cutting from the plant. Make sure to prune the non-variegated leaves so they don't overgrow the other leaves. Since non-variegated leaves have more chlorophyll than variegated ones, they can grow quickly and overtake your plant.

With plants that are not primarily green, variegation can still occur with colour variations other than a different green including, yellow and orange to even red and purple. 

Outdoor displays

You can bring your plants outside in the summer if you want to display them. Variegated plants make great houseplants, but that doesn't mean you have to keep them cooped up. As long as it's warm and sunny outside, most variegated plants can grow outside just fine. If the temperature outdoors gets too cold or you notice the variegation disappearing, bring them back indoors!

It can be hard to create a variegated plant yourself, therefore it is best to collect a cutting/propagation from someone you know and care for it accordingly to keep it in it’s beautiful condition. 

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