variegated ficus robusta

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

Can you make a plant variegated?

No.

Why would you even ask that?

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.

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

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 £30.

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

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

  1. From my totally unscientific research, it seems that pruning back green foliage on a variegated plant helps simply because green leaves will outgrow and eventually block variegated leaves from the sun. If you chop them off, all those ‘green’ cells can no longer divide and conquer the rest of the plant– but the ‘albino’ cells can. So to answer your question, yes, the plant does forget that it put out green leaves. Or maybe it remembers that the green leaves met an untimely end. Either way, hope this helps!

  2. Ooo that makes sense, thanks! I like the idea that we possibly scare our plants into producing pretty leaves by chopping off ones we don’t like.

  3. It’s right at the top of my wishlist – I’m just waiting to for all the gang to be spider mite free!

  4. I was curious the reason why they revert back to green and found this!

    Q. Why does variegation sometimes revert?

    A. Variegated plants can revert or turn green for a number of reasons. It can be a reaction to extremes of hot and cold or a reaction to low-light levels. Some say it could also be caused as a survival technique, as the plant is stronger when it has more chlorophyll. When this happens, the best thing to do is prune out the affected leaves because if you don’t, the plain green can actually take over the plant because it’s got more chlorophyll and vigour than the variegated foliage.
    -capra designs blog

  5. Thanks! Yeah, I get why plants value survival over aesthetics (I mean, who wouldn’t), bit it’s still sad!

  6. Have a marble queen.Pruned it few times & now don’t know why it’s putting out the leaves with little to no variegation.Should i remove them or prune the vine again?

  7. You need to remove all of the non-variegated leaves. I’d also put it in a brighter spot to encourage it to put out more variegated leaves – increasing the humidity will also help the plant grow faster.

    I don’t think it’s the light itself that increases the variegation, I think it’s more that the healthier the plant is, the more likely it is to put out variegated leaves, since it doesn’t feel the need to panic-produce chlorophyll.

  8. Pruned the non variegated leaves few days back.Lets see how it does.Not worried about the light cause mine kept in balcony which get good afternoon sunlight.Have few other indoor plants there that seems to do fine.

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