How can you preserve variegation in house plants?

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Do you remember back in the day when you were blissfully unaware of variegated plants?

And then, all of a sudden, you can’t stop thinking about them.

You promise yourself you don’t care about getting a variegated monstera.

They’re like £200.

What if you kill it?

it’s absolutely not worth the stress.

Maybe I’ll start a little fund for one.

Or wait until I’m rich.

What if it dies?

What if it reverts? £200 to £10 overnight.

I though all of these things, and decided against getting a variegated monstera. I already have a monstera that I love. I don’t have the light really, so it might revert.

Long story short, I dropped £89.99 on a Monstera Deliciosa Thai Constellation and I have zero regrets.

Actually my boyfriend bought me it, but that just makes me more stressed about killing it.

I love it.

No regrets.

Luckily I don’t trust our postal service enough to buy a Albo borsiagiana, so unless one pops up in my local garden centre (where the Thai constellation came from), my pennies are safe for a while.

What is variegation?

WHITE BITS ON LEAVES.

Unless you have mealybugs of course.

Lol lol lol.

(Omg what if my Thai constellation gets mealbugs?? I’ll cry).

Anyway.

Variegation just means that the plant exhibits different colours.

I THINK that it occurs naturally in plants in the same way that albinism occurs in people and animals. There’s a gene-level difference which causes differences in pigmentation.

If I’m right, then surely every plant has the potential to be variegated. There are very few animals that have no documented cases of albinism.

I want a variegated Orbifolia.

Brb – I’ll just google it.

Ok, not yet, but some botanist’ll be working on it.

Some plants are naturally variegated. Think spider plants (which apparently can revert). It’s thought that some plants develop a stripey look to deter insects such as leaf miners because they already look infested.

A lot of garden plants are naturally variegated, and this isn’t coincidental. As a species, humans like variegated plants because they’re bright, and we like shiny things.

monstera leaf

Why do plants revert to their non-variegated form?

This is every variegated plant owners worst nightmare, especially if the plant was expensive and/or rare.

Thai Constellations don’t revert. The variegation is built into their genetic makeup because they’re engineered by humans and don’t exist in the wild.

Not the case for ‘proper’ variegated monstera (albo borsigiana). They can occur in the wild, and can just… happen. If you buy a baby monstera it MIGHT turn out to be variegated.

Though I’m pretty sure the place that grew them scour every millimetre of the plant to check.

Currently, there are a few people reporting that their monsteras are putting out variegated leaves, but they’re lime green rather than white. Mine hasn’t done so yet, but we can but hope.

The answer is there’s no concrete answer, but here are some theories:

  • They’re not getting enough light

Variegated plants have less chlorophyll (there’s only chlorophyll in the green parts of the leaves), so they arguably need more light.

This is a subject that is divisive in the plant community because some people argue that the plant self-corrects the lack of chlorophyll by growing more slowly.

What I would say is: give your variegated plant enough bright, indirect light, add a grow light if necessary, but don’t let it burn. They’re more susceptible to burning than non-variegated plants.

Look for other signs that it’s not getting enough light, such as leggy or stunted growth.

  • Reactions to temperature

Reverting is probably a survival technique, and more producing chlorophyll is pretty much the only weapon your plant has in its arsenal. Try to make sure your plant doesn’t get too hot or too cold. Don’t leave it near draughty windows and doors, and ensure it gets whatever humidity it likes.

monstera leaf

Give your plant more light

This is just great advice to keep your plant happy BUT, as I mentioned before, your plant can burn if exposed to bright light.

Don’t just assume your plant will benefit from spending the afternoon outside – it’ll probably burn because it’s not used to the intensity of the sun and to add insult to injury you could very well pick up a bug or two.

If you want to take your plants outside in the summer, do yourself a favour and read this post first.

monstera leaf

Prune off reverted leaves

If your plant puts out an all-green leaf, snip it off.

I honestly have no idea why this works. Does the plant just…forget that it decided to put out green leaves.

Still, it works, so be sure to keep a close eye on your plant.

I’ve googled ‘why does pruning back reverted leaves on variegated plants preserve variegation’ but nothing came up. Explanations in the comments please.

monstera leaf

Can you reverse a reverted plant?

No.

At least, not usually.

In the case of a lot of plants with unstable variegation, once the plant decides it’s not going to produce variegated leaves, that’s it. But every now and again you get one that defies logic.

Plants with unstable variegation would prefer not to be variegated, because the more green they have one their leaves, the more they can photosynthesise, and the more they can photosynthesise, the more energy they’ll have, and the quicker they’ll grow.

Can you make a plant variegated?

No.

I think we’d all have variegated monstera if you could.

I mean, you could paint white bits on the leaves, but it’s not quite the same.

Except actually you can induce variegation in house plants. You just…probably shouldn’t and then claim it’s natural, because it’ll start a whole big thing.

Even heard of a Pink Congo Philodendron?

I think the craze started in 2019ish. Everyone wanted pink plants. The two ‘best’ ones were the afore-mentioned Pink Congo and the Philodendron Pink Princess. The Pink Princess has kind of burgundy leaves with pink variegation, whereas the Pink Congo is just…pink.

They both shot up in price and were EVERYWHERE.

And then the backlash happened. People were caring for their Congos in perfect conditions, but new leaves were growing in green. If that wasn’t bad enough, the pink leaves were starting to fade. Except, they weren’t dying, they were going green. BECAUSE THEY WERE ARTIFICIALLY TURNED PINK.

The hormone the plants were treated with can last around two years, so the original people that started the scam were well away.

What I find so sad is that I think there’s a place in the market for artificially coloured plants.

I mean, I hate them, but I’m sure plenty of people would buy them. The issue I have is that sellers weren’t being honest about the plant’s, er, pinkness. And they certainly didn’t say that any pink would be gone in a few years.

To add insult to injury, the Pink Congo being knocked out of the running for the prize of Best Pink Plant means that the price of Philodendron Pink Princess shot through the roof.

Hilarious, considering Australian plant lovers used to be able to buy them in garden centres for a few dollars.

Just to be clear, Philodendron Pink Princess doesn’t occur naturally in the wild. It’s a hybrid of a few plants – I don’t think us mere mortals are privvy to the exact parentage. But it’s at least going to stay pink (so long as the variegation remains).

monstera leaf

What’s the best way to ensure you don’t lose the variegation?

Do you already know what I’m going to say?

Have you already groaned inwardly?

Just…look after your plant. Keep it watered (but not too much), give it plenty of light (but not too much) and ample humidity (but not too much) etc etc etc until one of you dies.

monstera leaf

What’s the difference between real variegation and sport variegation?

We have a few different types of variegation:

  • Variegation in the genes of the plant

This would include Thai Constellation, but it can occur naturally too – this is plants that have variegation built right in and that don’t revert. A lot of plants are being hybridized to have this feature.

  • Variegation at a stem level

This is still in the plant’s genes, but it can also revert. So plants like Albo Monstera, variegated peace lilies, and variegated Alocasia. You can see white (or yellow, or pink) stripes of variation travelling up the stem of the plant. The more variegation in the stems, the more in the leaves (in general).

  • Sport variegation

Sport variegation occurs so that every now and again, we can get really excited over something not worth getting excited over.

Sport variegation is when a leaf randomly grows with a patch of variegation. Typically, the level of variegation is low, but it’s still there. I have a teeny patch on my Florida Green, but I couldn’t call the plant variegated.

Sport leaves have a habit of turning up on plants that are pretty common in the green form, but super rare to have variegated. Monstera Adansonii and Rhapidophora Tetrasperma are very big on producing sport variegation on one leaf and then never again.

Unfortunately, as far as I’m aware there’s not a lot you can do to encourage sport variegation to spread. It’s always worth giving the plant a bit of extra light (you never know!), but in 99.999999% of cases, the leaf was just doing its own weird thing.

Variegated plant wishlist

Instead of lusting after an albo, I’m lusting after a variegated syngonium. The white on them is just so white, and they’re cropping up on eBay and Etsy for about £60. Afroditesgarden sometimes has them.

Just be careful that you don’t accidentally buy a reverted specimen. Some sellers put the variegated part in all caps, and the reverted part is a tiny footnote. Read the descriptions carefully!

Fingers crossed that my local garden centre gets them in.

Obvs a variegated orbifolia, but I’m not sure that they currently exist, so there’s that.

Any variegated Calathea will do, tbh.

For further information on variegation and preserving it, watch this Kaylee Ellen video

13 thoughts on “How can you preserve variegation in house plants?”

  1. We do can make plant variegated 🙂
    All that we need is to buy a bottle of variegata hormon.
    It’s only $10 in my country.

  2. NO WAY! DO you know which hormone is being sold? I think there are a few.

    Some unscrupulous sellers do sell non-variegated plants as variegated ones that will revert as the hormone wears off.

    You may read this and think ‘who cares? If it’s got white patches it’s variegate – who cares how it got them?’

    And the answer is that it’s personal. Would you rather have a knock-off designer handbag, or a real one? A painting by a specific artist or a great forgery?

    People covet variegation because it’s rare. Naturally variegated plants will always have their market, and so too will hormone-treated ones.

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