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What is variegation in plants?

Last Updated: Apr 22, 2016  |  3 Views

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“Variegation” refers to the appearance of different-colored areas in the leaves (and sometimes, stems and fruit) of plants. The most common kind of variegation is the occurrence of white or yellow areas on green leaves. Very often it is the margin of the leaves that are affected.

Variegation can have several causes:

  • Lack of chlorophyll due to problems in the production of chloroplasts. These plants are usually chimeras (plants with more than one type of genetic makeup).  To retain the variegated character they must be propagated by vegetative methods, e.g. cuttings.
  • Masking of green pigment by other strongly colored pigments, such as anthocyanins. Coleus is a good example of this kind of variegation.
  • Pathological reasons, such as infection by mosaic viruses.  Many hosta color variants are caused by this virus.
  • Visual effects due to different reflection of light from different parts of the leaf, as in aluminum plant (Pilea). 

Variegated plants are popular with gardeners as they can provide variety in the garden. Because of the lower amount of chlorophyll in the leaves, variegated plants tend to be slower growing than non-variegated varieties. These plants can be damaged in very strong sunlight but conversely tend to lose their variegated character in insufficient light. 

For tips on a variety of gardening topics, see our Plant Information Guides.
- Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Service

Answered by Anita FinkleBookmark and Share

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