Why Are Variegated Plants So Expensive?

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There’s a rite of passage that most new plant parents go through a few weeks after starting their collection: desperate desire to purchase a variegated version of each of these plants.

Why? Well, it varies from person to person, but I just think they look cool. Some people like to have something a bit different, others just love the thrill of the chase.

But just as there are in all areas of life, there are scammers out there. This post aims to equip you with enough knowledge to not get scammed into paying above and beyond for a plant that isn’t worth it.

What is a variegated plant?

A variegated plant is a plant that has different zones of colour on the leaves.

There are various reasons for plants to have variegated leaves, but in house plants, we’re usually looking at a mutation that causes uneven distribution of chlorophyll within the leaf.

I’m sure there’s much better and more sciency explanation than that, but that’s the really basic explanation.

Variegation is a mutation that occurs naturally – if you’ve ever kept tropical fish you’ll know that there are albino versions of pretty much every fish. Same thing (I don’t know if that’s true, but I always kind of assumed it was a similar deal).

Are variegated plants healthy?

Yes and no.

Variegated plants can be kept healthy in a controlled environment, and you can definitely get variegated plants in the wild.

But.

Variegated plants don’t have as much chlorophyll as green ones, so if they don’t get enough light, they might struggle to grow fast enough to climb trees and get closer to the sun. Every plant that’s of a similar age but is all green will be able to photosynthesise more and grow faster.

The variegated plants either won’t have the energy to grow and will therefore die, or some types can overcome their lack of chlorophyll by producing green leaves. Once the old variegated leaves drop off, we’re back to a regular green form of the plant.

The plant in itself isn’t unhealthy. Variegation isn’t a disease, but variegated plants may require a bit of extra care. They don’t occur much in nature because it’s survive of the fittest out there, and variegated plants aren’t as fit as their green counterparts.

If you’re wondering about the albino fish, they’re super common when they’re being bred, but obvs in the wild the white fishy gets eaten first. They’re practically glow in the dark, which is NOT a great survival mechanism.

monstera leaf

Why are variegated plants rare?

Some variegated plants are rare because there aren’t many of them, and there are various reasons for that:

  • There’s no demand

If no one’s going to buy the plant, there’s no point in growing it.

  • They’re very hard to keep alive

There’s no point growing a tonne of variegated plants if they’re going to die in transit. Some non-variegated plants struggle enough during travel, a variegated one has no chance.

I strongly suspect this is the case with anthurium, but that’s just speculation.

How beautiful would a variegated Crystallinum be?

  • They’re rare in the wild

If the green version of a plant is rare in the wild, it’ll be even more difficult to get a variegated one, if one even exists. You’d have to spend a lot of time (and money) growing plants from seed in the hope that a variegated one pops up.

  • They’re slow growing

Variegated plants tend to grow more slowly than green plants because they have less chlorophyll. You can’t just whack up the light levels because the white parts of the leaves are pretty delicate and you can burn them.

But not all variegated plants are rare.

Some variegated plants are really common, and crop up in garden centres all the time. Tradescantia and Spider plants are technically variegated, though since the variegated ones are more common than the green ones, we kind of forget about them.

Don’t buy something just because you see the word variegated. It’s become synonymous with the word rare on places like eBay and just because something is labelled as variegated and rare doesn’t mean you should be paying a fortune for it.

Obviously you get the Albo Monstera scammers, but I see a LOT of people trying to pass of bog-standard Syngonium podophyllum as ‘rare, variegated plant’.

You can get ‘properly’ variegated syngoniums, yes (and they’re expensive), but more often than not the unscrupulous sellers are asking £20 for a £7 plant.

monstera leaf

How rare is variegated Monstera?

Not. Rare. At. All.

So why the hefty price tag?

It’s all just supply and demand.

If 5 people want a variegated *insert rare plant name here* and there’s only 1 plant, the seller can sell to whoever will pay the most. If that person will pay £10,000, so be it. That’s now how much it’s worth.

The same thing is happening with variegated Monstera, but instead of there being 1 plant, there are 1 million (this is just for the explanation, I have no idea how many there are). And instead of five people wanting it, 10 million want one.

Sellers can charge what they like (up to a point) because of the massive pool of people desperate for a plant. And because they’re *fairly* common, they crop up on places like Pinterest so that even non-plant people want them.

Variegated Monstera are not only desirable to plant people, but also interior designers and people wanting a statement plant.

As I said before, variegated plants are pretty healthy (or can be), and Monstera are easy to grow.

Variegated Monstera have it all going for them:

  • Easy to grow
  • Look really cool
  • The most Instagrammable plant out there
  • Grow quickly (so you can take cuttings and recoup your loss)
  • …and they’re not that expensive. Not compared to the new darlings of the variegated plant world, Monstera adansonii variegata, and Rhapidophora tetrasperma variegata.

A lot of people in the plant community are over variegated Monstera, so you’d think demand would have slowed down, but since a lot of people who are only into the aesthetics of the plant want one, demand will remain high for a while.

Is the supply of variegated Monstera controlled

I don’t know…*nods head aggressively*

There will be nurseries out there that rely on the price of variegated Monstera staying high. Sure, there’s always another it-plant, but people always return to Monstera, because they’ll always come back into fashion.

What’s the difference between variegated Monstera and Monstera Thai Constellation?

The pattern of variegation is different

This picture is an extreme example (I’m afraid I don’t have a Monstera albo to show you) because this stock photo of an Albo show a half-moon leaf (one that’s half green, half white).

In general, Albos have larger areas of white, and are more sectoral. On the Thai, whilst there are patches of white, there are rarely patches of just green – almost all of the green sections are flecked with white.

They’re slightly different colours

Over time, the white on Thai Constellations fades to a more creamy colour. Can conform though, the more light you give them, the whiter the white stays. But they also burn. Oh well.

Thai Constellation is man-made

I have no idea how, but Monstera Thai Constellation was created in a lab, I assume using the genes from an Albo, but I have absolutely no idea. I’d love to learn more about this kind of thing, but I don’t have the brain for details.

I do tend to hyper-fixate though, so I’m sure at some point botanical experiments will become my world for a week or two. I’ll vlog the whole thing!

The fact that it’s man made has two major implications for Thai Constellation:

1 – They don’t revert

Imagine paying a few hundred quid for a variegated Monstera, just to find that it decided to only ever put out green leaves. Once all the white leaves drop off, we’re left with a plant worth about £30.

Worse, it could only produce white leaves, and you’d have to watch it die, albeit in a really pretty way.

Thai constellation have the variegation built right in. If the plant decides it’s not getting enough light, it doesn’t have the option to produce all green leaves. Mine just refuses to grow if there’s not enough light (it grows super quick if there is though!)

monstera leaf

2 – It’s been tissue-cultured

Tissue culture is basically a way of cloning plants and producing a lot of pups quickly. I’m guessing it lends itself to tissue culturing because all the genes have already been overhauled.

By the way, tissue culture doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be cheaper to buy – just that it’s cheaper to produce. If the growers decide to keep the price high, there’s not a lot we can do about it.

When new plant cultivars are created, they’re often patented, so you can only produce those cultivars if you either pay through the nose for the, er, instructions, or you can learn to do it yourself.

Both these methods cost money, so it’ll be a while before the savings from tissue culture can be passed onto the consumer.

EXCEPT IN MONSTERA THAI CONSTELLATION

I can’t find much information on who created TC, but they didn’t bother to patent it. They’re either a good samaritan, or they forgot. It’s probs the former (I’m thinking angry grower that didn’t like having the supply of Albos throttled), but if I were a botanist I’d defintely forget to patent stuff.

Anyway.

The low (ish) price of TCs leads me onto my next topic.

monstera leaf

How much does a variegated Monstera cost?

I bought my Thai for £89.99 in the UK in January 2020.

You’re unlikely to get one of that size (about 5 leaves, with fenestrations and inner holes) for any cheaper.

But also, I wouldn’t pay more than £100, unless you’re getting a massive one.

I’m pretty sure mine came from the Netherlands, where they’re produced en mass. The pandemic put a bit of spanner in the works (£100 is a lot for casual plant parents, and people more established in the hobby have probably moved on to rare stuff) but they’re still available.

It’s a bit of a different story in the US, and I see people paying $100+ for pretty small cuttings.

If you’re willing to be patient, it’s rumoured that Costa farms are going to start producing cheap Thai Constellations soon. It was meant to be last summer, but…you know. Hopefully this year.

This one from Pink Tomato Designs is going for $350. That’s for a juvenile cutting, and it seemed a pretty standard price for a Thai.

So yeah, still pricey in the US.

BUT NOT AS PRICEY AS AN ALBO

I don’t have an albo, and I’ve never seen one in store (except a big one for £200 in a shop in York, but I bet it’s worth twice that now).

So we’ll use Etsy as a guide.

UK albo on Etsy – £89 for a one-leaf, rooted cutting. That’s actually not bad. From the reviews it seems like this is what the seller Monsteraterra specialises in.

US albo on Etsy – $320 for a 2 leaf/2 node cutting.

If you factor in the exchange rate, the cost per leaf is about the same.

I’ve noticed that the plants are bigger in the US, whereas I had like 2 sellers in the UK, and both only had one leaf. I suppose if the US sellers are in Florida, they can wait an extra couple of weeks for a new leaf to emerge, and double their price.

We simply don’t have the weather to do that over here!

monstera leaf

Is Philodendron Pink Princess rare?

No. Same thing as the Albo, but less supply (and less demand). Though once PPP becomes more commonplace on Pinterest and in interior design magazines, we’ll probably be seeing sky high prices.

I think the reason for the lower level of interest (compared to Monstera) is that Philodendrons in general are less well known that Monstera (everyone and their gran had a Monstera in the 70s) and people don’t want to spend a lot of money on a plant that’s hard to care for.

Once it’s established that PPP are fairly easy to look after, demand will increase even more.

I mean, they’re pink.

I associate pink with babies, so I think a PPP is a GREAT present for a baby, because they can have it their whole life (if, you know, no one kills it) and if it gets too big you can cut it back.

If giving babies PPPs becomes a thing, YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST.

I’ve never seen a PPP in a UK garden centre, but this shop sells a cutting with an aerial root (I’m guessing unrooted though) for £78.

I have no idea if that’s good. I know at one point in Australia garden centres were overflowing with the things, and just knowing that information makes me clutch my purse tighter. It’s not for me, but i totally see the appeal.

So, let’s see how much we can get a Pink Princess for in the US.

As with the Albo, the plants are bigger than in the UK, but they’re a bit pricier. We’re looking at $329.72 for a rooted cutting. Slightly more expensive than the UK, but not shockingly so.

Ever since I found out the monstrous prices people pay for anthuriums in America I’ve assumed that plants are way more expensive. I think they’re actually pretty similar.

monstera leaf

Philodendron Pink Princess vs Pink Congo

A Philodendron Pink Princess is a hybrid plant (I’m not sure of the parentage, but I think P. Erubescens is in there. It’s been carefully bred to have dark leaves and hot pink variegation. The variegation does come in a variety of shades, but the hot pink looks incredible.

The variegation is natural in that it comes from the parents. It’s unnatural because it’s been selectively bred. It’s about as unnatural as a chihuahua – which are very much a natural life form, but also definitely not a wolf.

Philodendron Pink Congo on the other hand, is treated with a chemical that causes the plant to go pink. If you keep treating them with the chemical (which a lot of plant youtubers claim they know the indentity of but I er, don’t) they’ll stay pink. But once you stop, the pink will revert to green, and you’ll be left with a green plant.

I’m assuming that you’ll be left with a Philodendron Congo, but there is surprisingly little information on this.

I checked the prices on Etsy, and you can get a Pink Congo for about £25 – that’s a lot less than they were going for prior to the scam being exposed, but I don’t know what they peaked at because no one wants to admit it. Fair enough, I guess.

So if we consider the Pink Princess as being a chihuahua, a Pink Congo is like a chihuahua that gradually and over time turns back into a wolf – cool, but not what you paid for, and definitely not what you wanted.

By the way, Pink Princesses have unstable variegation, so may revert. I’ll just throw that out there before you run off an buy one.

But whilst Pink Princess MAY revert, it also might not. Pink Congo WILL revert.

monstera leaf

Why do variegated plants revert?

Variegation isn’t a desirable survival trait.

Actually, not true anymore, but plants don’t know that we think it’s pretty.

Interestingly, some plants are naturally variegated because insects think it’s pretty. But because we’re not primary pollinators, plants don’t care what we think!

But if we exclude human intervention, variegation just means the plant can’t photosynthesise as much and will grow more slowly. All the other plants will grow quickly, so it can either die or revert to green to make the most of the light.

Wouldn’t it be cool if plants realised that if they’re variegated they’ll be nurtured by humans, and they’ll be cloned over and over again? Although I’m pretty sure The Day of The Triffids warned us about such things.

Final thoughts

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of variegated plants, but I do think some are pretty. I’m on the lookout for a Hoya compacta variegata (they’re pricey, though not extortionate, as you can see here), and a Syngonium Albo (which are just so so beautiful).

I could get either of these plants for under £100. This doesn’t seem like a much money to a lot of plant collectors but to me (and I’m going to write a whole article on this) spending anything more than £40 on a plant just causes me to stress about the plant, and then I end up resenting it.

I don’t resent my Thai Constellation because it has the most beautiful healthy roots, so I know that it’ll be hard to kill (I’ve 100% jinxed it now).

Maybe when I’m rich and have a designated greenhouse and solar panels to heat. But even then I think I’d struggle to spend that on one plant. I’m just wired that way. I’d waaaaay rather have 10 bottles of £6 prosecco than one bottle of £60 champagne!

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