With the Variegated Monstera being on everyone's wish list, and variegated plants selling like crazy on ebay, we thought it might be a good opportunity to do a bit of a run down on what exactly variegation is and how to understand it.
What is variegation?
Basically variegation is when a plant has a colour variation in the leaf or the flower. This is often the result of cell mutations in the plant. Variegation can be genetic or they can be chimeric (random). Variegated monstera is an example of chimeric variegation.
There are no guarantees on how much variegation each plant will give (and why there is so much pressure on that expensive cutting to variegate!)
Genetic variegation is when the variegation is actually written into the DNA of the plant and therefore passed on to each generation. Think of plants like Calatheas, with their highly patterned foliage as an example of genetic variegation. This variegation is stable - you know each propagated plant with have the same patterns as its predecessor and therefore no need to wait anxiously as each new leaf unfurls.
Chimeric variegation is where the plant parent anxiety comes in. Its prized because there is no predicting it, and even when you propagate a Chimera (a plant with two chromosomal make-ups and only one can produce chlorophyl), there is no guarantee that the mutation will be stable and therefore your cutting might revert to its original green self.
So...is variegation good?
Well, it's not, not good. Natural variegation like the patterns in the Calatheas or reflective blisters on plants like Scindapsus pictus are part of that plant's make up and those variegations have evolved to give the plant its best chances of survival and reproduction in its natural environment.
The real debate is with Chimeras and their green and white foliage. Plants need chlorophyl to photosynthesise, so the more green on the foliage the better. The white parts of the leaf have no chlorophyl and therefore are of no benefit to the plant.
So as incredible as it may look, if your plant is putting all its energy into producing all-white (or mostly white) foliage, it will eventually die.
How to manage and maintain chimeric variegation
The trick here is finding the balance. Chances are if you've bought yourself a variegated Monstera or Syngonium, or even a Devil's Ivy, you want to keep the variegation. If you find your variegated plant is starting to revert back to its original green self, just prune back the green foliage.
By the same token, if your plant is pumping out some incredible all white, chlorophyl-free foliage, don't let it stick around too long. Get some photos then snip it out so you plant can go back to producing a bit of green.
Does light have an impact on variegation?
It does! Plants with Chimeric variegation don't have as much chlorophyl, so they need more light to be able to photosynthesise as efficiently. Place them in spaces with more light than you would their non-variegated siblings.