Variegated Cordyline Miss AndreaSometimes leaves naturally decide to develop a cream stripe down the centre, or a freckled pattern of golden spots. Sometimes plant breeders deliberately develop plants with paler leaf markings. This is called "variegation".

“Variegation” means when the leaves of a plant are partly green, and mixed with another colour or colours – this is usually cream, white or yellow, but it can be a brighter contrast such as pink. The extra colour can appear as a stripe along the edge or centre of the leaf; as spots and freckles; or in random splashes.

Sometimes the variegation is very regular and even on all the leaves of every plant; sometimes the colour is variable, with some leaves more colourful, or some plants brighter than others.

Variegated plants are among the most popular plants in our range. The light-coloured leaves brighten up dark spots in the garden, and give an extra level of interest all year round.

Bright Light = Bright Leaf 

The paler parts of the leaf have less chlorophyll in them, which means the plant can't photosynthesise (turn sunlight into energy) as much as an all-green plant. So variegated plants need locations with brighter light - ideal for the Australian climate. They also do well in part shade as they add a lighter colour to mixed borders, a contrast to dark green hedges and shrubs.

Reversion = No More Variegation

Variegated Hibiscus revertingIf you enjoy growing plants with different coloured leaves you might have noticed that occasionally they will sprout a random stem or branch with all-green leaves. The leaves on that particular branch or stem have not got the white, yellow or pink colouration that the rest of the plant has. This habit - of the stem growing all-green leaves – is called “reversion”.

What is wrong with your plant?

Variegated plants are often grown from one original all-green plant that spontaneously grew a colour-splashed stem. To keep the colour variegation the plant usually has to be grown "vegetatively" – this means that we take cuttings from the colour-splashed part - to make new plants.

Sometimes the plant ‘forgets’ that it is variegated, and starts to grow green. The plant is reverting to its more common state of all green.

Plants with variegated leaves are a little different to plants with all-green leaves. An all-green leaf is more efficient at photosynthesising than a partly-green one. So an all-green stem will grow more strongly than a variegated one.

What you can do about reverted stems

If you don’t want your variegated plant to revert to an all-green plant, an occasional check and prune is worthwhile. If you see an all-green stem appear on your plant, follow it back to the main branch of the plant, and prune it cleanly away. For tips on pruning see our blog post here.

Keep in mind what kind of variegated plant you have. Some of them are green to start with when they are young, and only develop bright leaf colour when the leaves – or even whole plants – have grown for a while.

You can leave the all-green stems alone, but as they grow more strongly than the variegated ones, eventually the plant will turn mostly or even all green. To keep the bright colour, just snip out any all-green stems as they grow.