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A slight fixation on variegated plants is pretty much part of becoming a house plant enthusiast. In my opinion, lean into it.
Sure, they can be expensive, but after the variegated plant phase comes the Calathea phase, and you’re gonna want to stave that off for as long as possible.
Calathea are beautiful, but by GOD they charge a high price. Not in a fiscal sense, but in blood, sweat, and tears (mostly tears tbh).
What are variegated plants?
Variegated plants are plants that have two (or more colours on the leaves). Sometimes the whole leaf will be variegated, sometimes just sections will be a colour other than the ‘natural’ colour of the leaf, and sometimes there’ll be flecks of another colour all over the leaves.
The most common colour for variegation is white/cream, but yellow and pale green variegation is fairly common too.
Variegation happens naturally in the wild. Some plants, like ivy, are naturally variegated, with white portions on every leaf that are part of the design of the plant, as it were. Other plants acquire variegation by accident, usually through a mutated gene.
If the mutation is desirable (or at least, not undesirable) the plant will grow and reproduce. Over a long time, the plant can become more likely to be variegated, as those plants with the mutated gene reproduce more often.
More often than not though, variegated plants don’t thrive as well as all-green counterparts, and don’t get the chance to pass on their genes.
In the case of variegated plants with a mutant gene, like Monstera albo, it should be noted that if the plant goes to seed, those seeds only have a tiny chance of being variegated – there’s only a minusculely higher chance of it producing a variegated offspring as there would be for a normal green Monstera.
The chance is higher because that gene might be passed onto the offspring. But it’s still very, very, unlikely. Hence why you can’t grow variegated plants from seed with much certainty.
Are variegated plants harder to care for?
It all depends on the plants.
Variegated plants need more light (to overcompensate for the lack of chlorophyll in the white parts of their leaves) and grow more slowly that their green counterparts.
However, the lack of chlorophyll in the leaves means that they’re more susceptible to sunburn*.
*The white parts on variegated leaves typically browns pretty quickly.
If you’ve spent a fortune on your plant and you don’t want it to burn but you do want to keep it white, I’d highly recommend getting grow lights. They’re not as intense as the sun, and can provide more controlled light.
What are the best variegated plants for beginners?
It’s up to you to decide on your budget.
Don’t go getting a variegated Monstera as soon as you see one. For one thing, beginners are likely to be less savvy than a plant veteran, and might get fleeced (there are a tonne of unscrupulous plant sellers out there) AND there are some GORGEOUS cheap variegated plants out there that look just as beautiful as variegated monster without the hefty price tag.
1 – Pothos Marble queen
She’s legit the best.
Cheap, grows really well, AND you have the chance of growing mature leaves (yes, with splits in the leaves) if you can grow her up a pole and give adequate light.
You don’t see many mature ones, I think because they’re viewed as a beginner plant, but they’re great.
If you see yourself still yearning for a variegated Monstera, give this one a go first, because, at least in my experience, you can get a good sense of the light requirements, with regards to finding a sweet spot between burning and growing quickly.
Monstera Thai Constellation
Monstera Thai constellation is man-made (whereas the Albo is just a genetic mutation) and was created to not revert.
Which means that if you don’t have the light to maintain the variegation on an Albo, that won’t be an issue with the Thai.
That being said, if you give it lower light, the leaves will be smaller and less fenestrated.
Thais have the same potential ginormous size if a regular Monstera delicious if given the correct conditions BUT they do have a slightly higher chance of getting root rot. They’re also a thrips magnet (like all Monstera deliciosa).
Mine lives in the aquarium, roots in the water, and she seems to like that.
Variegated Monstera adansonii
They just look so cool!
And yes, they are pricy, but the price is plummeting. I can only assume they’ve managed to tissue culture them because to go from one of the most expensive plants in the world to £250 in my local garden centre is quite the fall from grace.
I do appreciate that £250 is still a lot, and is certainly more than I would pay, it’s a lot less than 5 grand they were going for a couple of years ago.
If you want a big, cheap, variegated plant that can put up with a lot of crappy care, and won’t revert, dracaena is the plant for you.
They’re great for decor because they’re big and structural without being as messy as a Monstera.
What are the best variegated plants on a budget?
Pothos are always a good shout, and there’s a nice array of variegated ones:
They’re all just different colourways of the same plant, so don’t be alarmed if your n’joy starts turning out pearls and jade leaves.
There are LOADS of different types of variegated hoya. There’s the classic krimson queen/princess (the white parts come in pink, which is always nice!), but also variegated hoya kerrii, countless ‘silver splash’ varieties, and even some with black variegation around the edge of the leaf.
I especially like the ruby cultivars, that have a little flush of pink. Variegated rubber plants (Ficus tineke) are stable as far as I’m aware. I’m not sure if that’s because the variegation is at a genetic level, or because if you put a rubber plant in a dimly lit spot they won’t grow full stop, variegated or not.
If you get the light correct and allow some time for them to settle in, rubber plants are pretty easy to care for. If you’re having trouble, I have an article here on troubleshooting issues with rubber plants.
Also, the petioles are hot pink. We love it.
If you want some more ideas for cheap variegated plants, watch this Kaylee Ellen Video.
Best variegated plants for bright spots
Popular but pricey plants, such as Philodendron Florida ghost or beauty (beauty has variegation on every leave, ghost leaves fade from white to green over time) will also do well in brighter spots.
If you’re worried about burning the leaves, be sure to acclimate the plant by moving it gradually closer to the window over a few weeks, make sure not to use oil on the leaves in the mornings, or put a sheer curtain between the window and the plant.
Best variegated plants for lower light levels
I know that people are going to expect me to say ivy, but I never recommend ivy. Bugs freaking LOVE it, especially spider mites.
Ther are some really beautiful aglaonema that have naturally variegated leaves and will thrive in lower light areas. Aglaonema crete is beautiful, but you can get some that are basically all pink.
Please excuse the ‘fenestrated’ leaves, we have slugs in the terrarium. Yes, that’s a thing.
Variegated plants that might revert
Alocasia are widely known to be highly unstable. If you spend a fortune on a variegated alocasia, don’t be surprised if all of a sudden it produces a non-variegated leaf.
And then six more.
And then a variegated one.
It’s just how they are!
A lot of variegated aroids will only maintain their variegation if they get enough light – I have an article on how to maintain variegation here.
The amount of low light a variegated plant can tolerate before reverting varies a lot. For example, my Manjula pothos and N-joy have a lot more white on their leaves than my marble queen, even though they all receive the same light.
Interestingly (to me, anyway), the speed at which a plant reverts can vary from vine to vine. This is especially noticeable on my Hoya Krimson princess, which has a vine that had completely reverted (but had since produced variegated leaves again).
If you hadn’t already guessed, the left hand side is quite close to a grow light.
You can see that the vine on the right gets gradually greener, but then the last leaf has plenty of white on it.
I noticed a lot of reversion on my variegated peace lily, but unlike Monstera albo, you can get it to grow variegated leaves again if you increase the light.
If your Monstera albo reverts, you’ll need to cut the plant back to the node that produced the last variegated leaf. I’d root the cutting you’ve taken, because there’s a chance it might produce more variegation, but removing the green leaves will highly increase the chance of the variegation returning.
If you want a comprehensive list of plants that won’t revert, I’ll recommend this Kaylee Ellen video – she literally owns a plant shop and has a lot more experience than I do!
Variegated plants that won’t revert
It does seem like all the best plants have unstable variegation, but that’s just the nature of the beast – it does mean that risk-averse people like me simply…won’t buy them.
Kaylee Ellen does have a video on plants that don’t revert, but remember that you don’t always need to pick rare plants. A lot of common plants, like dracaena, variegated snake plants, and Calathea have naturally variegated leaves that don’t revert.
Do be aware that even natural variegation can fade in the sun – this is usually only an issue for plants that have colourful leaves and come from the rainforest floor, like Aglaonema – the all pink one pictured above is under a grow light though, and maintains its colour, so don’t worry too much about this.
If the leaves look a bit faded, just move them away from the window.
A note on sport variegation
Looking for plants with sport variegation is a lot of fun, but don’t confuse a plant with one variegated leaf for a variegated plant. Every so often the plant might produce a leaf with a patch of chlorophyll missing. It MIGHT produce more leaves, but it might not. The variegation is within the leaf, not necessarily the plant itself.
The stem will give you more of an idea of how strong the variegation is.
You can see on the stem of this marble queen that there are white and green stripes. The same can be seen on the stem of my Thai Constellation. It indicates that the variegation is in the genes of the whole plant, not just a weird blip on a leaf.
By all means buy plants with sport variegation. They look cool and you never know what might happen. But also, don’t pay over the odds for it.
Here’s a leaf with sport variegation from my Florida green:
This is actually quite exciting because every single one of my Florida green’s leaves has the tiniest speck of variegation on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a reverted Florida Beauty.
There’s another leaf coming through atm and I can’t see any variegation – she’s clearly trying to keep me humble.
I hope you found this article helpful. Feel free to leave your favourite variegated plants in the comments (and your least favourite – we love a plant-bashing comments section).