Variegated Plant Problems: What Causes Reversion Of Variegated Leaves

Reversion Of Variegated Leaves
(Image credit: Chansom Pantip)

Reversion of variegated leaves occurs in many types of plants. This is when the white shading or lighter speckles and borders turn into green. This is frustrating to many gardeners, as the variegated forms of plants provide increased interest, brighten dim areas, and are bred specifically to enhance this trait. Variegation loss in plants may be due to lighting, seasonality, or other factors. It is not possible to reverse the loss of variegation, but you can usually keep it from taking over an entire plant.

Reversion of Variegated Leaves

Variegation may be the result of a natural anomaly or carefully engineered breeding. Whichever the case, variegated leaves may turn completely green for a number of reasons. The coloring results from unstable changes in the leaf's cells. One of the most common variegated plant problems is limited chlorophyll in the leaves. Less chlorophyll means less solar energy, as it is a primary component in photosynthesis. Variegated plants are less vigorous than green specimens are. The tendency for reversion of variegated leaves is a protective adaptation that allows the plant to return to a more successful form.

Why Does Variegation Disappear?

Loss of variegation is a frustrating condition for the gardener. Why does variegation disappear? The plant may do it as a survival tactic. It may also occur due to another leaf cell mutation. Variegated plants growing in shady or semi-shady locations are really at a disadvantage. Not only do they have low levels of chlorophyll, but they are not even exposed to adequate light. This scenario lends itself to the reversion of variegated leaves. Variegation loss in plants could also be spurred by changes in heat or cold. If the weather is unfavorable to a particular plant, it may revert just to get a competitive advantage. Once the leaves revert to all green, the plant can increase its harvest of solar energy, which in turn gives it more fuel to produce bigger and stronger growth. Waterlogged plants may also turn back and new shoots often come out green.

Variegated Plant Problems

Variegated plants tend to be less hearty and vigorous as compared to their completely green cousins. They have no more or less general problems, but some plants can produce albino growth. This type of growth cannot gather solar energy and will eventually die back. If all the new growth becomes albino, the plant will not survive. This is the very opposite of the reversion process. Variegated plants also have smaller leaves, less tolerance to shady areas and yet a tendency to burn in the hot sun, and slower growth. Most plants will only revert on the stem, branch, or another area. You can cut these off to try to prevent the entire plant from reverting. This usually works to slow the production of green leaf cells. If that doesn't work, embrace your healthy, beautiful green chimera of a plant.

Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.