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Splashes, Dashes, and Dots: A Brief Explanation of Leaf Variegation!

There has been a shifting trend in houseplants lately, from flowers to foliage. As more and more leaf variegation has been encouraged by growers and plant propagators, the blooms aren’t the stars of the sill that they used to be! But not all leaf variegation is created equally, and there are a few things to know before you get attached to a favorite look.

While there are a handful of types of variegation, we are going to focus on the main two: Genetic variegation, and chimeric variegation.

Genetic variegation is a color pattern that is inherited, passed from plant to plant. You can plant a new green shoot from an angel wing begonia (Left) and end up with the polka dots of the parent plant every time. The vibrancy and contrast of the dots might wax and wane with your light situation, but the variegation is considered stable. Generations of the plant will reliably have the same characteristics.

Unless… or should I say, until… genes inevitably mutate and we end up with beautiful plants like the Senecio rowleyanus f. variegatus, commonly known as variegated string of pearls (Center).

Chimeric variegation occurs when some of the genetic code mutates and you find more than one genotype (genetic makeup) growing all together in the same plant. Because the cells in a chimeric coloration are mutated, they are not as stable as a genetic variegation. Currently, the propagation techniques used to reproduce plant chimeras are grafting, spontaneous mutation, induced mutation, and sorting-out from variegated seedlings. You need to propagate from the most variegated part of this plant to keep the color going through future generations. For instance, a variegated heartleaf philodendron… Some leaves along the stem are more variegated than others. If you were to cut up this stem for propagation, the chances of a green-leafed node producing a variegated leaf are extremely slim. You need the most variegated leaf from a node that you can find. And even then, the pattern will be random and stability is not guaranteed. If you notice your plant producing more green leaves than variegated leaves, it might be reverting to its original form because it’s not making enough chlorophyll. Giving the plant more light will make the green bits more efficient at photosynthesizing and the plant won’t feel like it needs to be all green to survive. Some growers recommend pinching off the fully green leaves to encourage the variegated ones. So, is it possible to turn a chimera into a stabilized variegation? Yes, sort of, through tissue cultures. Take the Monstera “Thai Constellation” (Right). This is a gloriously splashy and sparkly mutant monstera that, through lab grown cultures, can be produced anywhere.

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