Houseplant FAQ: What Does “Variegated” Mean?

Houseplant FAQ: What Does “Variegated” Mean?

If you’re big into houseplants, you’ve probably heard the word “variegated” get tossed around. But what does it even mean? This botanical buzzword is popping up in garden centers and plant catalogs across the world. So, we figured we’d break down the science behind variegation and why it’s having such a moment right now.  


What Does It Mean If A Plant Is Variegated?

If a plant has variegated leaves, it has a distinctive color pattern and isn’t one solid color. More often than not, you’ll see plants with white or silver spots and streaks on them, but there are many other presentations of variegation in houseplants. The contrasting colors and intricate patterns throughout the foliage brings plenty of visual interest and a unique edge to your decor. It’s like the houseplant equivalent of getting colored streaks in your hair!  

variegated ficus benjamina

What Causes Variegation?

If you think back to Grade 3 science class, you probably remember the unit on how plants make their food through photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is a key component of photosynthesis, and with it, plants can convert C02 and water into glucose. It’s also what gives plants that rich green color.

When parts of a plant are missing chlorophyll, it will be variegated because the green pigment isn’t there. For plants that don’t have green foliage, variegated leaves occur when a different colorful compound is missing, like purple anthocyanins or orange carotenoids. 

There are different ways variegation can occur, but growers have selectively bred plants to have these features. It’s usually a result of a genetic mutation, kind of like redheads, but sometimes it can occur from temperature changes, environmental conditions, or viral pathogens.

It’s worth noting that variegated plants tend to grow a bit slower than their all-green relatives. That is because there’s less chlorophyll in the leaves, so they aren’t photosynthesizing quite as efficiently. Try to maintain a consistent temperature and environment for your variegated plant because if they’re stressed out, they may revert and develop all-green leaves as a survival technique to gain more energy. If this happens, you can cut the fully green leaves off—if you let them keep growing that way, it may stop having any new variegated leaves altogether. 

variegated houseplants calathea vittata aglaonema leprechaun

Trending Types of Variegated Plants

Here are some of the most beautiful variegated plants available from our California greenhouse. We can safely ship these plants across the country straight to your doorstep—you can shop for new plants from the comfort of your sofa! Check out the gorgeous colors and patterns on these absolute stunners:

Calathea Vittata: This Calathea, or “prayer plant,” has a fascinating herringbone pattern with crisp, defined highlights running across each leaf. It’s pet-friendly, so you can safely keep it in the house if you’ve got cats or dogs. 

Chinese Evergreen Leprechaun: Known for being one of the most low-maintenance plants around, this tough-as-nails Chinese Evergreen has a thick, silvery-green streak in the middle of each leaf, and a striped paint splatter effect trimming the border. 

Croton Sunny Star: Warm golden tones never fail to brighten up the scenery at home, and Croton Sunny Star totally nails the look. Golden sparkles give this tropical beauty an air of opulence and luxury. 

Pink Fittonia: Also known as the nerve plant, this adorable Fittonia has neon pink veins running through each tiny leaf, bringing incredible detail and bold color contrast. 

variegated houseplants pink fittonia pothos n joy

Pothos N’ Joy: There are many different types of variegated pothos, but the Pothos N’ Joy is a longtime favorite. Each green leaf has a thick border in a creamy white shade, looking as if they were individually dipped in white chocolate. 

Tradescantia Nanouk: This magnificent trailing plant has pink and white stripes throughout—it reminds us of swirly peppermint candies! Tradescantia is an excellent plant for beginners, so you can get the variegated look without having to be a plant expert. 

Are you looking for variegated plants near your area? Our California location has an incredible assortment, and we can ship them straight to you. Browse our full catalog to see the latest lineup of must-have houseplants!