Not all plants are green by James Binary
Houseplants often lack the beautiful and hay fever inducing flowers associated with the spring blossom that I have all but glimpsed upon this spring. However, indoor greenery doesn’t have to be just that. Our plants often possess wondrous and bizarre foliage that is plenty interesting. The evolutionary origins of these markings, blotches and streaks are all fascinating and are broadly described as variegation.
Variegation in its most desirable form causes ethereal leaf patterns and as such is currently very on trend. I've heard tales of people selling organs for rare variegated cultivars. I am most definitely one of their many admirers but so far, I equally enjoy the functionality of my whole set of organs.
Now there are basically 5 different types of variegation, and if you want to delve deeper, I will just point you towards the rest of the internet as it’s quite the info bomb for me to try and diffuse in this short form read.
My own favourite type of variegation is called blister or reflective variegation. This is where tiny air pockets found between the lower and upper leaf laminas reflect light straight back out, creating the appearance of silvery veins or patterns. One of my favourite plants; Epipremnum pictum Argyraeus (Satin Pothos) displays this excellently.
White leaf variegation tends to be the most common. It’s produced due to a lack of chlorophyll in the leaf tissues. Less chlorophyll means less power for photosynthesis (we see leaves as green because the chlorophyll pigments absorb only blue and red light, reflecting the unused green light), and without this power, plants will grow slower than their non-variegated counterparts.
Most variegation is deemed by us wanna-be plant overlords to be pretty, pretty, so if your plant has reverted back to flat green foliage, try moving it gradually closer to bright indirect light. As always there are exceptions to this rule so please check about your specific plant if you are worried.
Mainly cultivated varieties (cultivars) make their way into our homes but natural variegation is found in the wild and as such is often for anti-herbivorous purposes. Tricking the local fauna into stopping for dinner elsewhere is a vital evolutionary trait.
Ramosmania rodriguesii (Café marron) a plant that has many odd stories ascribed to it, is said to have the fanciful ability to prevent children from having nightmares, but only if the child's cuddly toy is thrown at the plant! Anyway, I digress, R.rodriguesii has a very odd form of variegation. It only produces ugly brown leaves until over a metre tall. This initially had scientists baffled until they discovered that it held off producing its luscious green leaves until over a metre tall because it had to keep them above the gaze and reach of hungry giant tortoises. Sadly, said tortoises have now gone extinct.
Another less extinction based example is the beautifully patterned and delicate leaves of the Caladium steudneriifolium (a tricky houseplant but satisfying nevertheless). These plants incredibly have evolved to mimic the damage caused by leaf minor moths as a defence against picky eater herbivores.
These incredible genetic mutations evolve over many centuries and are being continually discovered and studied. As always, I could go on forever, so If you do have any more questions, you’re more than welcome to email us at email@example.com or me over at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you made it this far, thanks for giving me your time. I hope it won’t be too long before I see some of you back in the shop. Goodbye my plant pals