How To Induce Variegation In Plants? And How to Maintain

The most effective method is to propagate from plants that already show variegated patterns, as variegation is largely a genetic characteristic. Other techniques, such as chemical treatments, are less consistent and often result in temporary variegation.

Variegated plants become one of the attractions because of their uniqueness which sets them aside from other plants. However, what happens if the variegation suddenly fades and their leaves turn green?

This must sadden plant collectors, especially since it is impossible to get it back.

how to induce variegation in plants
How to Induce Variegation in Plants?

Usually, it happens due to a lack of proper care. And for that reason, we will share tips on how to induce variegation in plants and maintain them to avoid such an issue.

Furthermore, we also include the factors that cause their distinctive pattern to change so that you can be more careful handling your plants. And, of course, to keep them thriving.

Let’s jump into the topic!

Key Takeaways

  • Variegation often stems from genetic factors but can also be influenced by environmental conditions.
  • Propagating from already variegated plants is the most reliable way to achieve variegation in new plants.
  • Chemical or radiation methods for inducing variegation can be unpredictable and temporary.
  • Maintaining variegation requires careful attention to light, water, and placement.
  • Pruning non-variegated leaves and using specific fertilizers can help sustain variegation.

What Causes Variegation?

The common cause of plant variegation is a genetic change in the plant cells and tissues that causes a lack of chlorophyll production, leaving the upper leaves with color blotches.

Moreover, the color variations vary and highly depend on the plant type, for example, the white, pink, or silvery green pigment.

Besides the above-mentioned, several other factors make the leaves have a rare pattern. What are those?

how to induce variegation in plants
Monstera Borsigiana Aurea Variegated Leaf

1. Genetic-Derived

Naturally, variegated plants have DNA that is encoded with such stunning marks.

Some plants that have variegation due to genetic change are Calathea spp. and Monstera deliciosa ‘Variegata’. Their markings are also distinctive on each plant and almost impossible to match precisely.

2. Viral Infection

Perhaps, you never thought that a viral infection could cause variegation in plant leaves.

One of the most popular viruses that create markings on your plant’s leaves is the tobacco mosaic virus.

As its name bears, they leave discoloration on the foliage similar to a mosaic. You will notice the green pigment slowly turns brown as the infection spreads.

Moreover, ornamental plants that are prone to this viral variegation are hostas.

3. Reflective Patternation

Reflective variegation is a type of natural plant variegation. It occurs due to air pockets trapped between layers of tissues.

As a result, the chlorophyll that should color the leaves at the top only fills in the lower parts. The absence of this green pigment results in white patternation.

You can see reflective variegation in watermelon peperomia (Peperomia argyreia).

4. Chemical Variegation

Besides occurring naturally, variegated foliage can also be induced by chemical substances, like Ethyl Methane Sulfonate (EMS).

EMS will stimulate random changes in the plant’s DNA, resulting in alluring variegation. However, this type of pattern is not permanent and potentially harmful to your plants.

It is said that some variegated leaf plants carrying pink color are the products of chemical variegation.

5. Mutation Breeding

Like the previous one, mutation breeding is one of the man-made methods to create variegated plants. It uses radiation to alter the DNA mutations in the tissues, later producing unique patterns.

Besides, the changes can also generate plants with disease-resistant features and bountiful harvests (for the crops).

What Does Variegation Look Like in Plants?

Variegation in plants has various forms and motifs. Sometimes, it looks like random dots, patches, strokes, and dashes with distinctive colors. Not only on the leaves but these colors and patterns can appear on fruits and flowers.

In several plants, like the monstera ‘Variegata,’ the markings on the foliage are white, which is also characteristic of this tropical plant.

Meanwhile, Calathea spp. has various patterns with different colors and variegation. Some of the rarest and most sought-after by plant collectors for their unique foliage are Calathea Dottie, Calathea Picturata Crimson, and Calathea Makoyana.

Bicolor Leaves on the Peacock Calathea Plant

Calathea Dottie features deep green to magenta foliage with motifs such as pink brush strokes that follow the upper left frame. Moreover, the underside is a dark purple, making this plant seem like a work of art.

In addition, Calathea Picturata Crimson highlights captivating pink foliage with dark green or black shaded edges.

If you prefer green Calathea, you can choose Calathea Makoyana or more popularly known as Peacock Plant. As the name suggests, it has a peacock-like pattern with a mix of dark green and silvery green foliage.

How Do You Induce Variegation in Plants?

Due to its popularity, plant breeders are looking for ways to induce variegation in plants. Nonetheless, they cannot breed non-variegated plants to have distinctive markings.

Hence, inducing variegation through vegetative propagation of the already variegated plants is the only way to breed plants with such unique patterns. It is the safest and simplest method that can ensure (though not 100%) you have new plants with an excellent design like their mother.

However, some try artificial practices to induce variegation, like using chemicals, transposing genes, and applying radiation (gamma rays or x-rays). These methods are applied to create many variegated plants in a reasonably short period.

how to induce variegation in plants
Succulent Graptoveria Titubans Variegated or Porcelain Plant

Unfortunately, they can harm the plants and make them die.

Furthermore, the success rate is relatively low. It cannot guarantee that the offspring have the same or similar pattern as the parent.

Besides, the pattern is usually unstable and only lasts for a short time. But if you want to know more about how to induce variegation in plants, find the detailed explanation below!

1. Propagation

The only way to induce variegation in new plants is through propagation. Depending on the plant you want, you can grow it by shoot or seed.

Generally, they will pass the pattern down genetically. Thus you will have fresh ones with the same markings as the mother. In some cases, the variegation can occur randomly (chimeral variegation).

2. Radiation

Basically, the principle of this inducing method is to alter DNA to bring out new varieties in your plants.

In addition to patterns, this process also allows plants to have unique features, such as being resistant to pests and diseases, producing more fruits and flowers, accelerating growth rates, and changing plant sizes (either bigger or smaller).

Before radiation, you need to prepare rooted cuttings. Then, the gamma rays or x-rays will shine on the roots.

3. Chemical Application

EMS or Ethyl Methanesulfonate is the most widely used chemical substance to artificially induce variegation in plants.

Generally, you will need to soak your plant’s active seeds or seedlings roots into the EMS solution for around 6-12 hours.

Although it looks easy, you cannot guarantee the results as the desirable ones need a bunch of trials and errors, which of course, take some time. The pattern also generally only lasts about 6 months (not permanent).

Moreover, you must pay attention when using EMS as it is carcinogenic and teratogenic. One of the plants produced by chemical mutagens is Philodendron pink Congo.

4. Gene Transposition

Unlike the rest of the methods we previously discussed, gene transposition is the most complicated since you cannot casually do it at home.

The experts will change the position of specific genes in the DNA and rearrange them to get the features they want, such as bringing up variegation in the leaves or flowers.

What Chemical Makes Plants Variegated?

Despite having been briefly mentioned in our previous section, we would love to talk further about the chemicals used to induce plant variegation. The most famous one is Ethyl Methanesulfonate (EMS).

It is a chemical mutagen generally used in agricultural biotechnology to perform seed mutation.

Moreover, this chemical is also frequently involved in DNA repair processes.

As for the ornamental plants, you can try to soak the seeds or shoots in the EMS solution to create variegation. On the other hand, it is a toxic substance that can harm your plants.

Chemical That Makes Plants Variegated
Chemical That Makes Plants Variegated

Another one that the breeders use is Ethylene gas (C2H2). It is a plant hormone that plays a role in fruit ripening.

Moreover, the hormone can lower chlorophyll production, thus leaving the leaves with blotches of colors other than green. Similar to the EMS, the result is temporary and predicted to only last about 6 months.

However, it is less harmful than the chemical mutagen.

Maintaining Variegation in Plants

Giving proper care is important to maintain variegated parts of the plant’s foliage.

In addition, you also have to understand the factors that can cause pattern fading to determine the right care and planting placement for them. And so, we have covered some tips to help you caring and maintaining the variegation.

1. Cut Off Non-Variegated Leaves

Since non-variegated plants produce chlorophyll normally, they have more energy to support growth.

Hence, you will notice dense leaves growing faster than the variegated ones. If left unchecked, it can trigger pigment production on the markings, causing them to fade away.

In this case, you have to cut off the green leaves.

2. Sun is the Best Companion

You might think that the sun will spoil the beauty of the motifs on the leaves of variegated plants.

But on the contrary, they need sun exposure to maintain the pattern.

Placing them in a partial shade or full shade area will make the plant produce more chlorophyll, fading away the beautiful markings. We recommend placing them near your windows, in the east-facing spot, to receive bright indirect light.

3. Adjust and Maintain Temperatures

Even though the plant loves sunlight, it doesn’t mean it can handle hot weather.

Continuous exposure to high temperatures will cause it to lose color blotches. Hence, it is better to keep them indoors, where you can control the temperature the plants want.

4. Grow Your Plants in Pots

Well, it is okay if you want to grow your variegated plant in the garden.

However, adjusting to their growing conditions will be difficult, especially when the hot summer or cold winter comes. Therefore, the best way to grow them is in pots, where you can quickly move them indoors when the weather worsens.

how to induce variegation in plants
Variegated Philodendron Florida in Pot

5. Low-Nitrogen Fertilizer is Necessary

Nitrogen is one of the mineral components needed by plants to grow thick leaves. It also increases chlorophyll production, which means their discoloration leaves will fade as the green pigment increases.

And so, it will be best to offer low-nitrogen fertilizer to keep your plant healthy while maintaining its striking pattern.

6. Set Watering Schedule

As most plants, variegated ones also require water to thrive. That’s why setting a watering schedule is essential, so you don’t forget to water it.

However, since water is one of the elements needed in photosynthesis (more energy and chlorophyll produced), you cannot overwater the plant. In addition, wet soil will cause root rot which, of course, is bad for their growth.

7. Clean the Foliage

Last but not least, take care of your plant with love. One of them is by cleaning their lovely foliage to keep the colors striking and attractive.

You can try to wet the cloth, then wipe the leaves one by one from dirt or dust.

Variegated Syngonium
Variegated Syngonium

Final Thought

The best way to induce variegation in plants is by propagating the already variegated ones. This method guarantees you will have a similar new plant to its mother.

On the other hand, artificial methods are more challenging and risky for your plants. Furthermore, some factors, such as light intensity, watering schedule, and growing sites, are important to consider to maintain its unique pattern.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why are variegated plants so expensive?

Variegated plants are costly due to their rare genetic mutation, which differs for each plant. So, it is impossible to have the exact same pattern.

Generally, this mutation causes the leaves on the plant to lack chlorophyll, resulting in weirdly exquisite white (or other colors) spots. In addition to beautiful marks, this disorder also causes slow growth.

What causes more variegation in plants?

You can see more variegation on the plant’s leaves when they are placed in the spot with full sun exposure.

Usually, people will put their variegated plants near the windowsill to get more sunlight. Or they also expose them to lamps and other sources of artificial light. Don’t keep them in the dark if you don’t wanna lose their beautiful pattern.

Can the reverted variegation come back?

Unfortunately, plants that lost their variegation after being placed in the dark spot cannot have it back.

Hence, to avoid such a regrettable event, you must always put them near a light source, such as sunlight or artificial lights. But please avoid direct sunlight as it can burn the leaves and make the edge crisp.

Why do leaves lose variegation?

The primary key to maintaining variegation in plants is light conditions. If you place them in the full shade or dark areas, you will start noticing the pattern fading. And all you get is green leaves.

To keep the variegated leaves stunning, bright indirect sunlight is crucial. Some spots like window sills will help the plants to achieve adequate light intensity.

Why is my variegated plant turning green?

Several factors may cause your variegated plant to turn green, such as light conditions, coping stress from the excessive heat or extreme cold, and a sign that your plants gain more energy as the chlorophyll production increases.

The light conditions can be adjusted by placing your plants in an area with bright, indirect sun.

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