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Variegated plants can be a beautiful and unique-looking addition to your plant collection. However, these plants can be extra sensitive, and so their care needs may be a little different to what you’re used to.
WHAT IS LEAF VARIEGATION?
Variegation simply means when your plant’s leaves have both green and non-green parts. This can show up in a variety of patterns, usually in a pale white-yellow or pink color, which can be very aesthetically pleasing. However, they can be sensitive to change, resulting in damage to the leaves.
The reason why variegated leaves are more easily damaged than ‘normal’ leaves is that the white/yellow or pink areas of the leaves don't contain any chlorophyll - which means that they can't absorb any sunlight in these areas. Although it's pretty to look at, these parts are very sensitive and can easily turn brown.
Chlorophyll is a green pigment that occurs in your plant’s cells, and is a vital part of photosynthesis. Variegation occurs usually due to a cell mutation, which results in a lack of chlorophyll and thus a change in the leaf’s color/patterning. This can occur randomly or can be genetically passed on from plant-to-plant.
SIGNS THAT YOUR VARIEGATED PLANT IS DAMAGED
Parts of the leaf may appear brown, dry and/or shrivelled
The light-colored parts of the leaf may start turning back to green (known as reversion)
WHAT TO DO NOW
If your plant is showing signs of damage, first you should carefully remove any brown / damaged parts from the leaves. Try to provide your plant with some extra light, by moving it to a better-lit location or adding a grow light. However, make sure to avoid direct bright sunlight, as this can actually burn the sensitive parts of the leaves. Also try to ensure that your plant gets the air humidity it wants, as variegated leaves are also sensitive to humidity.
IN THE CASE OF REVERSION:
Reversion is where the distinct markings on variegated leaves turn back to green. This can be caused by light levels being too low and / or exposure to extremes of temperature - both excessively hot or cold temperatures can result in variegated leaves turning green.
If your variegated plant starts to revert, the best thing to do is remove the reverted leaves. Otherwise, the green, non-variegated leaves may start to take over the whole plant. This is because leaves containing more chlorophyll (the green leaves) are stronger than variegated leaves, and so your plant may try to revert entirely as a survival technique.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THE DAMAGE IS DUE TO VARIEGATION, AND NOT SOMETHING ELSE? Reversion is a variegation-specific problem. However, browning and shrivelling of the leaves can sometimes be caused by other issues with your plant, such as drainage problems. You should hopefully be able to see which specific areas of the plant are being affected - i.e. if the damage seems to be localized to only the variegated parts of the leaf, and the green parts seem to be unaffected, then it’s most likely a variegation problem. But, if green leaf parts are also showing signs of damage, it could be worth checking up on the overall health of your plant to make sure it’s not something else causing the issue.
HOW CAN I PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN? Try and make sure that your Site conditions are suitable for a sensitive variegated plant. It should ideally be somewhere with good light, but not any harsh direct sunlight (to avoid sun scorch), and away from drafts or extremes of temperature.