Thomas J. Story

Variegated leaves are trending big-time, and houseplant lovers are geeking out on them, hard

Heather Arndt Anderson  – September 27, 2019 | Updated October 16, 2019

Like pink-leaved plants, variegated foliage is having a major moment right now. All of the houseplant nerds I follow on Instagram are posting shots of their gorgeous (yet expensive) specimens. Part of the charm of variegated plants might be that they can be ephemeral; many variegated specimens will revert back to their normal, plain form, much to the plant owner’s consternation. 

When it comes to growing variegated plants, keep in mind that they tend to be a bit slower-growing than their non-mutant versions (hey, being that fabulous is hard work!), and fertilizing them more won’t fix it—in most cases, it’ll cause more harm than good. Variegated plants also tend to prefer slightly dimmer conditions, because the chlorophyll that makes leaves green also acts as a plant’s built-in sunscreen; white leaves can scorch easily in direct light. On the plus side, their shade-tolerance makes them excellent houseplants

Monstera (Monstera deliciosa ‘Albo Variegata’)

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The golden child ⭐️ (although he has been a bit cheeky lately) . . This is an old photo – the next leaf that came after this was basically all green except for a tiny splotch towards the bottom. It looked almost identical to the leaf in the top right and behind in this photo. You’ll also notice that the two leaves on the left look similar (more marbling) whereas the ones on the right look similar (block variegation). . . So, I was slightly concerned after the mostly green leaf. Recently the newest leaf that has begun to emerge appeared to be another fully green one but today it unfurled enough for me to see that it is almost a half white leaf! I’m so excited to show you. Hopefully it will be more visible by next Monday. . . Which of your plants are being naughty lately? . . By the way, there was only about 3.5 months difference from this photo and the photo of Gabriel from two posts ago 😊

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With nearly a million tags on Instagram, Monstera is one of the most popular genera for houseplants right now, full stop. And let’s face it, it’s pretty dang charismatic. M. deliciosa is hotter than ever, and people are losing their freaking minds over the variegated version.  It’s really a breeze to grow, but do keep in mind that the variegated version doesn’t need as much light as the green one. 

 

Adanson’s Monstera (Monstera adansonii  ‘Archipelago’)

This cutie-pie monstera is also blowing up on IG right now, with or without variegation. It’s somewhat diminutive compared to its more robust cousin M. deliciosa, but still pretty easy to grow. These benefit from a moss-wrapped pole, and do best with filtered light and evenly moist (but well-drained) soil.

Century Plant (Agave potatorum ‘Tuxedo Mask’

It’s not just tropical plants that get a little sexier with variegation—succulents get even better when their leaves are patterned and streaked. Sunset definitely loves its agaves; you can’t find a more handsome water-wise plant. ‘Desert Diamond’ is another blue-and-cream knockout. Another favorite is A. attenuata ‘Variegata,’ with golden-yellow stripes. Find care tips here

 

Elephant Ear (Alocasia odora ‘Variegata’)

With its gigantic leaves, elephant ear will always make an impressive houseplant, but wait ’til you get a load of this streaky freak. This variegated plant would look perfectly at home on the edge of a pond, but to grow it indoors, keep it in a pot of consistently moist soil, in indirect bright, filtered light. 

African Violet (Saintpaulia ionantha variegata)

I will always have a soft spot for old lady plants like African violets. There are literally hundreds of varieties of African violets in America alone (don’t even get me started on Russian varieties), and dozens of these are variegated. This mini ‘N-Yagunya’ is from a grower in Germany, but also keep an eye out for ‘Neva Fern,’ ‘Happy Harold,’ and ‘Zacah’s Fantah.’ Give your African violets a slightly shady spot (mine are in a north-facing window), and they tend to do well in self-watering pots

 

Banana (Musa x paradisiaca ‘Ae Ae’)

It’s hard to beat a banana tree for bringing an instant tropical vacay mood to indoor spaces, but the variegated version of this plant manages to kick the Trader Vic’s vibe up to level 11. And get this: even its fruit is variegated! Grow these in partial shade, and give them plenty of humidity. If white isn’t your cup of tea, the dwarf variegated banana ‘High Color Mini‘ is streaked with red and take a bit more sun. 

 

Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata,’ ‘Spider’s Web,’ and ‘Spider White’

Compared to a lot of the other variegated plants, Fatsia is not only much easier to source (it’s pretty much a garden center staple), but it’s not going to break the bank, either. The variety ‘Variegata’ can produce several completely white leaves at a time, whereas ‘Spider’s Web’ (pictured) will typically be more uniformly speckled. These gorgeous Aralia relatives actually do quite as outdoor plants (in Zones 7B-10B), but they grow effectively in well-lit spaces. They can reach about 5 feet in height and grow nearly as wide, so give them space! Otherwise, these plants are pretty easy-care; average soil and water will do the trick.

If you want to read more specifics about the different types of variegation, or some of the science of how variegated plants are created, our friends at Pistils Nursery in Portland wrote a really discursive article on the subject