Why hostas go green

Jon 6a SE MAJuly 23, 2012

I have observed my own small collection of hostas and seen how many lose their variation and turn very green as the season progresses.

The green is obviously chlorophyll which the hostas use in photosynthesis to grow. Hostas of the Plantagenia group do well in sunnier locations because they function with lighter leaves with less chlorophyll. Darker leaved plants do better in shadier locations.

I think when hostas turn green seasonally it is because of a couple of factors. The shade increases as the leaves of trees or other shade becomes denser and the leaves compensate by producing more chlorophyll resulting in greener leaves. The plant is larger needing more chlorophyll and is sending up scapes and producing seeds which takes more energy.

I think the equation goes- light times chlorophyll equals the energy needed for the plant. Give a plant a lot of sun and it cuts back on green to compensate. Give it less sun and it increases the green to compensate. Want more variegation; give it more sun. Want more green, give it more shade. Give it too much sun and it blanches out. Give it too much shade and it turns all green.

???, or is this old news?

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Babka NorCal 9b

The only one I have out of 90 varieties that turns green is Whirlwind, and even that has some slight variegation in the leaves. Which hostas do you have that are turning green? Some are by design viridescent and they turn green no matter what you do with them. I used to have a Hadspen Samphire that came up bright yellow in Spring, almost like yellow flames, but it didn't last long, maybe a couple weeks) and it was a plain green hostas the rest of the year. I gave it away because my space is so limited and I needed more bang for my buck all summer. My Fire and Ice gets the most sunlight of all mine and it maintains that white center consistantly.


    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 9:58PM
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What you are not taking into account is HEAT!

You are in zone 6 I'm in zone 4.

What I can tell you is that my zone 4 garden, the plants in my front garden are in full sun near my sidewalk ... very hot. They're almost all a light green.... very washed out. But in my back garden in a full sun area, they're less washed out, because of the cooler temperatures.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:12PM
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Not entirely correct johnny... some plants will green up under stress alone... sun or shade.. doesn't matter...
White Feather on another hand will always turn from white to green... but keeping it in shade will slow the process down a bit..
Whirlwind already mentioned... will always go from white to green... regardless of what you do... but will keep its variegation...
Its been said by some that an overload of nitrogen will come some white coloration to turn green...
Undulata... mediovariegata..univitatta... etc... gradually goes through the process through the years until mature and solid green...
I don't think theres just one simple defining factor to greening of white tissue...
It truly depends on the cultivar and other variables..

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:14PM
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idiothe(4 MN)

What about all the ones that develop more variegation as the summer progresses? June often starts with very subtle variegation and then gets brighter all season. Pretty much all the variegated plants in the Halcyon clan get more, not less, variegated.

And Guacamole - the only bad thing about it is the lack of variegation early in the season... Stained Glass is considered an improvement because it colors up earlier.

If we accept the principles of evolution, we might actually learn more from the environment in which the species plants developed... it may well be that greater or less variegation made them more or less vulnerable to grazing or cultural conditions that change in their home neighborhoods... perhaps they mimicked another plant that wasn't tasty... or being dark made them less attractive than lighter plants in the area or or or...

Whatever it is... light must matter... but heat also matters... and who knows what else?!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:38PM
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hosta_freak(z6 NC)

The answer to which plants turn green is....ALL of them,at least in my garden this time of year. The heat,rain pounding on them,and just the time of year for me. I have a beautiful shiny green Halcyon,in full bloom right now,to give an example. Phil

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 8:35AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hey johhny ... you have really been pondering your hosta.. eh????

its early.. not fully awake.. but i think you also left out genetics ...

and using 'ALL' .. in various places.. usually leads to trouble ... not all do anything the same..

and i dont know about your light green theory on plantiginea ... not that it is wrong.. i just dont know ... its one of the species that originated closest to the equator .. IF i am not mistaken.. but why apply green i dont know ...

and as to this: Give it too much sun and it blanches out

i dont understand how it fits in the color change theory .. when a leaf gives off .. thru sweating/transpiration .. more water than its roots can pump to it.. it blanches.. fades.. burns.. bleaches out .. melts out ... whatever you want to call it ... but it doesnt fall into your green theory ... per se ... in and of itself ..

keep pondering..

i dont have the time to go thru others comments right now...


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 9:02AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

Ken, genetics is important, for example, most plataginea species are lighter because they are from warmer climates where they get more sun and need less chlorophyll. .

From my limited experience-

I have 7 Whirlwinds. 5 in deep shade and 2 in a good amount of shade, but get a couple of hours of direct sunlight. The 2 getting more sun have (and need, in my opinion) less green / chlorophyll.

I have 5 Elegans. 4 are in deep shade and 1 gets a lot of afternoon shade since a big oak died. The Elegans that gets the sun is bleached out in the area most exposed to sun. The other 4 (divisons of the same plant) are all deep green with chlorophll in my opinion.

I have 10 Patriots which all have good variation, but more green in shadier locations. I have 6-7 Junes which all but one s in good shade. The one in the sun is less deeply colored.

I have 7 Fragrant Bouquet. 4 are in a shady location and are darker green with nice light margins or more correctly margins that appear brighter on contrast. The 3 in more sun are lighter and the margin contrast is less.

All this is anecdotal, but convincing to me. I still feel that the color variation is based on, of course genetics Ken, and on available sun where more sun equals less area of chlorophyll and less sun causes the plant to create more green / chlorophyll.

The pictures people post and at other available sources of photos show dramatic differences in plants. Soil, climate, moisture, fertilization and a myriad of different things contribute to this. When you have the same soil, the same zone, the same rainfall and fertilization and you get different results then something is causing it. The intensity of the sun with all other conditions the same will vary the production of chlorophyll. I don't think this can be denied logically.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 10:55AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

I, should have said the one Elegans gest more sun.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 11:01AM
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Hmmmm, so my plants being different from the ones grown in a different zone may not be my doing....like my Sharp Dressed Man is really darker than I thought it should be, very little white marking. It is going green. I moved it into a spot which currently gets more morning sun, to see if that helped with his color.

Whirlwind, having only one plant, is becoming very dark, but that is despite it having a couple of hours early afternoon sun. My mini hosta are not in direct sun, in their small pots, but they get bright shade because the sun bounces light off the white stucco Teahouse wall. I think the real issue where these plants are located is lack of air movement. They could use a nice breeze blowing down that narrow allee to help cool them down. Since as Ken says, hosta sweat or transpire, the air movement would also help them cope with the heat.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:18AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

H. Elegans that gets too much sun sinc an oak tree was cut down-

Versus a division of the same plant in good shade, much greener.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:29AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

Planted yesterday. Purchased from a nursery where it was sitting in the sun.

Versus, A Blue Angel in the same shady spot as the Elegans-

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:33AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

In the shade

Planted last Fall with......

Which gets more sun.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 8:44AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

Happy in an approximate 50/50; sun/shade.

...and in a sunnier location, showing less green. This is possibly a division of the same plant, but definitely planted at the same time-

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 9:09AM
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Location does have a lot to do with it. Aphrodite in the sun, where I moved it after the flowers refused to open, is the same color as Sum & Substance. Not bleached out or faded, just that chartruese gold color. It was plain green in its former shadier location. And June, three of them in that same bed, are gold centered with green edges, not a bit of blue, and apparently totally happy there without a burned leaf among them in spite of minimal water and weeks of 100+ temperatures. But they started put there as first year babies.

Pretty amazing, how adaptable some of them are.

And then there is the Frances Williams at the end of the woods that never gets watered, perky as a cheerleader, not a burnt edge on it. The ones closer in that get water look like somebody took a blowtorch to them. Go figure.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 9:46AM
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After reviewing your initial post again... what you are generally trying to say is correct... and yes its old news.. generally...
Like some of us mentioned... its general... due to other genetic color change factors of certain cultivars of hosta...
And like Ken said... its never good to use or indirectly use.. the words every, all... etc...
To me initially it sounded like you were talking about color change... rather than just greens being more green...
We are gonna immediately say.. hey wait a minute...
Your comments on chlorophyll production increased when sunlight is decreased is right... and yes more chlorophyll will make each color in a hosta... more green...
Other things as well... do your plants in more shade tend to grow bigger leaves? do your plants in shade tend to grow taller, or should I say more leggy? Almost as they are reaching out towards where the sun is coming in... this is true for most plants...
Plants in more sun... grow smaller leaves, grow more compact.. and tend to lean and reach out to the sun less...

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:06AM
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Jon 6a SE MA


Thank you for re-reading my post. Other than reversions to parentage chlorophyll is the only way for hostas to change color.

All other things equal, growth and legginess depend on exposure to the sun. Hostas sre not universally reaching for the sun. The sun singed leaves of my Elagans that is bleaching out is are trying to avoid the excess sun they are exposed to. In the case of my Fragrant Bouguets that are generically sun lovers, the best performance is not in a great deal of full sun. Of course those in other zones and that have other climate and soil factors will vary. With a less geographic sun exposure (higher latitude)the same plants would thrive in a "sunnier" spot. In a lower latitude they would love a "sunnier" spot.

I am learning how to place hostas not 100% by where I think they will look good, but also taking into consideration where I will get the best results. I thought giving an explanation of my reasoning and what I have experienced might be of value to others.


PS- I have reviewed my posts and find that I did not use all or every until this post, however the basis of the discussion I started is that all plants require chlorophyll and variations in light affect the amount of green / color in all plants, every single one of them.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:54AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

I wish they had a spell check (and grammar check). I meant "in a lower latitude, they would love a shadier spot"

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 11:05AM
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I figured you would mentioned you didn't use the word all... and no you obviously didn't lol.... but in my defense... "why hostas go green" was confusing to me...and in your first statement you mention your hostas "lose their variation(variegation?)"
Which made me and I'm sure others.. assume you were talking about certain cultivars who have color change... or white that greens up... rather than shades of green either being dark or light colored based on the amount of sunlight they receive...

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 11:39AM
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Jon 6a SE MA


Variegation would not be lost. It would become less contrasting or less variated. I purposely used variation to hopefully not be misinterpreted. In retrospect, less contrasting might have been clearer.

I wonder if placing plants in less light could help trigger reversions to solid green parentage? That could turn into a real project to study.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 11:54AM
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I didn't want to get into this one and perhaps I should not have. Color is too complicated to be making overly simplistic conclusions such as proposing a chlorophyll only theory. For an example, I think we should be able to agree that darker colors absorb more lightwaves of certain frequencies and lighter colors less. Since plants don't generate light of any color range what we see are those that are reflected off of them and not those absorbed into the leaf.

And then there is what seems to be a relationship between vitamin E and the suns rays. How does this relate to the level and effectiveness of chlorophyll and the ability to convert light into other forms of energy(photosynthesis?).

I wouldn't want to overkill this thread. My two examples are only a couple of many that could apply, and it would take a rather extensive study using highly sophisticated equipment before conclusions could be proposed.

Lacking that, I prefer sitting back a enjoying something. If I can't change, I can rearrange. You pot gals have the right idea.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:52PM
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Well said Les... this subject is... well... what you said lol

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 2:34PM
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Jon 6a SE MA


- Do you think I or anyone else was comparing hostas of different colors or of different types? The Hostas that I showed and talked about were all the same type and close to or the same parentage.

- What is your theory of the involvement of vitamin E? What exactly are you suggesting? Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant found in our diets most often in wheat germ oil, sunflower, and safflower oils. What exactly does vitamin E have to do with hosta coloration?

As a former teacher of Life Sciences you surely know that vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin not E. If you did mean vitamin D, there is still no logic to your theory. Are you suggesting that vitamins cause coloration in plants by enhancing chlorophyll production and they do this differentially in the exact same type of hosta? I would love to see the reference for this, but I am sure I will not.

Your theories need a lot of explaining, Les. They don't seem to be any evidence they are based on science at all. Or perhaps you are not explaining them well enough.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 3:16PM
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Thank you for standing up to all these experts. Had you thrown in a few more ..... and lol's I'm sure you could claim your own righteous spot in this forum.

It appears some on this forum are a little intimidated by your clear reasoning.

I love how you are scolded for using the word all and then the accusers get to manipulate their own words to revise and provoke some more.

Thank you so much Jon for standing up to these hosta"bull"ies.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 4:57PM
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Jon 6a SE MA

Well, it seems ther are a few that don't seem to actaully read what others are saying. I don't mind others disagreeing. I don't mind admitting I am wrong. I do mind getting responses that have nothing to do with what I have said and others that have nothing to with reality.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 5:54PM
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Don't take my last statement as trying to degrade your questions and ideas... It wasn't meant that way...
Its so hard to read emotion in text... have you ever tried arguing with your significant other in letters? or even text messages... lots of humor is misrepresented and mistaken for snoody sarcasm...
I think this thread was taken in the wrong direction by some of us... and your initial point was overlooked or mistaken...

@Jim... I don't consider myself or anyone as having a righteous spot on this forum... its a priviledge for me and everyone else to come here and socialize and learn from one another..

We all have our personalities and the way we write down what we want to say.. there are some smarty pants comments that are said... but I'm sure its always in fun... and in no way shape or form does anybody on this forum want to degrade anyone or their ideas or questions...

No comment is a stupid comment... whats stupid is wondering... when you could ask or comment...

And for the record... just because some of us comment strongly and try to act like we know what we're doing... doesn't make us bullies... we're just confident...and in the end all we are all trying to do is help and be helped...


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:49PM
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Jon 6a SE MA


I have no problem with your comments. I was not offended by any of them. I appreciate the fact that you explained your position well and took the time to understand what I was saying and responded logically and politely. I hope I did the same.


    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 7:53AM
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bernd ny zone5

I have to say too that I have a problem with the saying that hostas are only shade tolerant and that hostas do better in more sun. This year's summer did bad things to some of my hostas having too much sun in my zone 5. I had to put up shade screens. If hostas do not mind sun, why then are they becoming crispy? In my garden hostas are always doing better in dappled shade.

My H.'Whirlwind' does not see hot sun in the afternoon and still has most of its variegation and perfect leaves. Bernd

    Bookmark   August 10, 2012 at 5:58PM
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I forget who mentioned it... but there are whirlwind out there that won't green up... and they aren't true whirlwind... according to them... true whirlwind always green up regardless of sun or shade...

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 12:03AM
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bernd ny zone5

My Whirlwind greened up when it got 2-3 hours of early afternoon sun, no longer now with no afternoon sun. Bernd

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 7:37AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

Bernd, I think you are saying that Whirlwind now gets no afternoon sun and hasn't greened up(?) How about morning sun and total sun exposure?


    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 12:47PM
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bernd ny zone5

Jon, my H.'Whirlwind' does not get the hot midday and afternoon sun. It sits on the east-north corner of the house and gets morning sun until 12:00 and late afternoon sun after 5:00 pm, filtered by tall pines after 5. Before that it got sun from 1:00 to 4:00 pm and turned green.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 3:37PM
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Jon 6a SE MA


That makes sense. It is getting more sun all morning until noon and then after 5 'til sundown. Granted the 1 to 4 time period was hotter, but the total sun now is greater. Less sun exposure triggers more chlorophyll in the leaves to compensate.

I have Whirlwind in 2 locations. One is in deep shade around my new Empress WU and the other location is against the foundation where it gets 1 1/2 to 2 hours of direct sun. In both locations the Whirlwinds have gone green, but it is more pronounced on the ones in the deep shade.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2012 at 5:11PM
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