What is variegation?

Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6October 15, 2011

Question; Why does leaves produce variegation? I have talked to a hosta nursery owner in Ohio and he explained it this way. There are mainly 3 ways plants produce variegation in there leaves. 1 Chemical, 2 Radiation, 3 Old age.

#1 Chemical; a lot of toxins weaken the cell structure and most effects are only temporary. #2 Radiation; again breaks down the cell structure but also changes it's DNA component. Effects are more long lasting. #3. Just like us, as we age we tend to go gray. same as plants. A overgrown and old clumps is where you find off shoots of variegation. Known as sports. But what is known is that variegation while looks attractive, is actually a weaker poorer plant. mostly never achieving the potential of the mother plant it came from. Any thought about this? I am still learning. Any help/comments?

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I'm leaning also, so my ears just got bigger, I appreciate your input. I have been suspecious of this for many years, only the past 10-12 years as all San. developed variegated sports, this gave me the clue. Something is wrong here. I am so glad that you spoke up here. and gave an opiniion.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2011 at 3:08PM
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Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6

Up date;
After re-reading Hermine Stover's Book 'The Sansevieria Book' she mentions a virus also. It may be possible that some growers are injecting 'something' to make these so called sports. Unlike Sans. Tri~ laurentii which sports a yellow margin and is superior to trifasciata. At least mine is.
How can I buy from a big box store at a cheap price a $40 plant for less than $5?? Mislabled as well. This has to drive nursery men carzy.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 1:58PM
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"superior" is a highly subjective adjective. I find all variegated plants crippled and rather ugly, but that saves a lot of bucks.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 7:00PM
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Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6

Helli, After reviewing the many ways to weaken a plant, I think laurentii is healthly and grows wider and taller than the regular trifasciata, however I can't help to notice the weaker strains out there that are too variegated. They rot easy and are very demanding. Just like they were virused. Makes sense that something is going on. Not nature.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 7:23PM
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I'm going to give an introduction to variegation and mutation to try and stem some of the misconceptions in this thread.

In the case of Sansevieria, there are several types of variegation at play; I'll cover pigmentary, and chimeral.

Pigmentary variegation is responsible for the bands green, reds and blacks that you see in wild type Sansevieria. These bands are caused by masking of chlorophyll by other pigments in certain regions of the leaf.

Chimeral variegation is the type of variegation responsible for the bands of white or yellow. These areas are white or yellow because the cells that compose these areas do not produce chlorophyll. A chimeric variegate is named such, because the final plant is composed of genetically different cells. Some cells are normal wild type, while others are mutant and lack chloroplasts.

A chimeral variegate is produced when one or more cells which give rise to the plant's apical meristem undergoes a mutation that causes it to lose its ability to generate chloroplasts. The apical meristem is composed of 3 layers of cells. Each layer is initially formed by a progenitor cell, so if for example, the progenitor cell that gives rise to the L1 layer undergoes a mutation, all cells in layer 1 of the apical meristem will be mutated.

Each layer of the apical meristem eventually forms into a specific region of the leaf, so depending on which layer of the meristem is mutated, a different banding pattern can result in the final leaf.

Since the meristem is structurally and functionally defined, chimeric variegates will consistently produce leaves with similar variegation. For example, S. trifasciata 'laurentii' consistently produces leaves with yellow edges, because the L1 layer responsible for forming leaf edges is mutant.

This brings us to your original post. The nursery owner is correct when stating that age, ionizing radiation and chemical damage can induce variegation. However, all three of these things boil down to a single factor; DNA damage. In short, when a cell undergoes DNA damage, it has several proteins meant specifically to repair it. If there is too much damage, the cell will kill itself. On occasion, the repair machinery will fail to repair the DNA correctly, but if the damage is not so great, the cell may survive with mutations such as lack of chlorophyll. As I said above, if this mutation happens in a cell responsible for forming a part of the meristem, then a variegated plant will result.

Variegated plants are poorer plants than their wild type cousins for a very simple reason. They have much less photosynthetic tissue per leaf, but have an identical amount of biomass. The mutant cells are incapable of photosynthesis, so they basically parasitize the green cells for food. The end result is a less vigorous plant.

Keep in mind that such mutations are absolutely natural, and in fact happen in plants all the time. The reason you don't see more variegated plants is because the mutated cells are weaker, and are usually outcompeted by the surrounding normal cells, so they never have a chance to form part of a meristem.

As for viruses, it is true that viruses can cause variegation, but viral variegation is not consistent in the way chimeral ones are. Viruses do not stay within a single layer of the plant meristem, and will instead infect any and all cells that they can. Generally viral variegates show mosiac patterns, mottled leaves or spots, rather than clearly defined regions of variegation.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2011 at 11:03PM
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Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6

Rennet, Thank you. You do seem to know what your talking about. Most of this I know but can't put to words so well. However my main concern is this is being done at the nursery to produce temporary variegation, which the plant will recover from and revert back to normal. There is a lot of money to make if your plants are variegated. There is just too many plants hitting the market all at once for me to accept. I hope I'm wrong. What is your opinion on this. Do you believe you can cause mutation if you wanted to? I know it was done in Germany in the 50's on maples to produce variegation. Respectfully, Stush

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 12:59PM
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Well, recent advances in tissue culture allows nurseries to produce huge quantities of clones. During this process, harvested plant cells grow into clumps of undifferentiated cells called calluses. The cells in these calluses eventually undergo differentiation and form the 3 layers of meristem tissue.

It is possible to try and induce mutation in these calluses by exposing them to ionizing radiation or mutagenic chemicals such as DNA intercalators. The process is identical to the one I explained prior; if a mutated cell which is incapable of producing chloroplasts differentiates into a layer of the meristem, then the callus will produce a chimeral variegated plant. The resulting plant can then be propagated vegetatively to produce a retail stock of variegated plants.

Chimeric variegates are usually stable and shouldn't spontaneously revert to wild type. However, if there is spontaneous reversion of the mutation in one of the cells in the chimeric layer of the meristem, it is likely to outgrow and displace the mutant cells, resulting in reversion of the plant's phenotype. Such a reversion is possible in just about any chimeric variegate, but is more or less likely depending on how many mutations are affecting the genes relevant to chloroplast production. Generally by the time a large enough population of plants is available for retail, an unstable mutation will likely have reverted.

Certain plants can also display yellowing of leaves in response to certain chemicals such as insecticides or herbicides, which may interfere with chlorophyll synthesis. These are not chimeric mutants and the resulting phenotype is that of chlorosis, not variegation. Chlorosis induced in such a manner should not be restricted to the L1, 2 or 3 regions of the leaf, so the resulting leaves will likely not have clearly variegated regions. Rather, these leaves are likely to show yellowing at their tips.

In summary, it is possible to artificially induce chimeric variegation in plants using a number of techniques, however the resulting plants should display stable variegation. This isn't to say that it's impossible for unstable variegates to make it to market, but it is somewhat unlikely.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 2:53PM
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The following link provides good information on chimeric plants, variegation and stability, as well as tissue culture techniques used to cultivate and produce variegates.

Feel free to direct questions to me.

Here is a link that might be useful: ORIGIN, DEVELOPMENT, AND PROPAGATION OF CHIMERAS

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 3:09PM
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Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6

Hay rennet, Thanks a lot. Very helpful. Many thanks, Stush

    Bookmark   October 24, 2011 at 1:01PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

This so interesting. I wonder if punishment can cause a plant to sport.

I posted this plant on the houseplant forum and people were curious about the stripe down the middle. I do not know a name or its origin because I am shamed to say it is a dumpster recovery from a hotel landscape clean up.

As you can see it is stuffed in a pot that has several unfavorable growing conditions. It is in a pot with several other unlike growing conditions without room to really grow. It is in full blazing sun, old very bad soil. My Mom was very ill for a very long time and lot of my plants took a back seat of care.

I would appreciate if any of you that know this variegation thing if you think bad treatment could also be a cause of variegation.

Here is a link that might be useful: What Do you think

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 12:03PM
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Stush2049 Pitts. PA, zone 6

Marquest, I got my answer in other posts. I don't think this is one of the ways to induce varagation. The use of chemicals is the most common. Refer to my post and 'RainforestGuy' for more info.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 2:43PM
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marquest(z5 PA)

OK Thanks.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2011 at 10:14PM
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