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Variegated Plants: The Meaning Behind the Term & Why they Cost so Much

Posted on February 28 2021

Variegated Plants: The Meaning Behind the Term & Why they Cost so Much

Do you find yourself searching for variegated plants on Google? It is a common phenomenon among plant enthusiasts who are charmed by the white splashes, stripes, and polka dots that adorn the foliage of their collections. Why are these plants so rare and unique, and what is the reason behind their attractive coloration?

The term "variegated" is derived from the Latin word "variegatus," which means "made of various sorts of colors," and it applies to many plant species. Several plants can be described as multicolored due to the diverse colors present in their leaves.

For instance, did you know that many species of the Maranta family are genetically variegated? These plants have the remarkable ability to produce their multi-colored leaves from birth, a phenomenon known as Pattern-Gene Variegation or Natural Variegation. The Fishbone Prayer Plant is one of the species that falls under this classification, with its purple undersides, lime green topsides, and dark green patterns. These plants are stable and can be propagated through stem or leaf cuttings and seeds.

Another form of natural variegation is the Reflective or Blister Variegation, as exhibited by the Alocasia Polly, which has a transparent skin layer over its pigmented leaf. An air pocket between the "skin" and the leaf causes a metallic appearance along the veins, as with the Alocasia Polly, or is spread throughout the leaf, as with the Satin Pothos.

Chimeral Variegation is a genetic mutation that produces white, cream, or yellow splashes on otherwise "normal" foliage, making it the most common and sought-after type of variegation. Species such as the Philodendron Birkin, Monstera Albo, and Thai Constellation fall under this category. Chimeras have genetically different layers that produce chlorophyll, a pigment that some plant tissues can produce, while others cannot. These mixed layers lead to symmetric or random leaf patterns, such as with the Birkin, Albo, and Constellation. Depending on the number of tissue layers involved, Chimeral Variegation has three categories: mericlinal, periclinal, and sectorial. However, many chimeras are unstable mutations that can revert to their natural state.

When caring for Chimeral Variegated plants, it is essential to provide them with more bright, indirect light than their un-variegated counterparts as they have less pigment to fuel photosynthesis. For instance, the Philodendron Birkin requires more light than the Congo, but it should never be exposed to direct sunlight. If the plant is not provided with enough light, it may start to revert, losing its iconic white pinstripes. Additionally, propagating and reproducing variegated plants can be challenging, and only the plants that fit in the periclinal category will propagate true-to-form from stem cuttings, while the other two categories may not remain variegated plants.

If you successfully propagate a variegated plant, it is crucial to note that they are slow growers since photosynthesis produces the plant's growing energy, and it takes chlorophyll to do so. Variegated leaves or splotches may slow down this process, but with patience, growth is possible. Finally, if your plant is struggling to maintain its variegation, you may need to use a diluted, balanced 20-20-20 fertilizer for optimal growth.

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