Variegated Foliage


Question: I have read quite a bit about the differences in light requirements between variegated and non-variegated violets. Many sources contradict one another so that it is difficult to know which theory is better, and my experiments haven't really resulted in any sort of consistent blooming response (some of my variegated varieties bloom with more light, and some don't bloom at all regardless of the light I give them). So, I was wondering based on AVSA's experience, should variegated varieties be given more or less light than solid leaved varieties. Is there anything else I should know about taking care of variegated varieties?

Answer: The problem with variegated violets is that the more variegation (non-green areas) the less chlorophyll, which means that that heavily variegated violets have less ability to produce energy than violets with all green foliage. Blooming requires energy. The amount of light that the violet receives is almost irrelevant if the violet has too little chlorophyll to process the light. So the real secret to getting variegates to bloom freely lies more in controlling the amount of variegation so that the plant is able to thrive. To control variegation requires understanding what is needed for a plant to produce chlorophyll. First, it needs nitrogen which is the essential building block for chlorophyll. Second, the plant needs pH in a range that allow its roots to absorb the nitrogen. Third it needs the nitrogen in a form that can be absorbed, which often requires the presence of beneficial bacteria in the soil to process the nitrogen into a usable form. Finally, if the plant is depending on the beneficial bacteria, the temperature of the potting mix must be warm enough for the bacteria to be active. Some of the old wisdom in growing variegates was to use fertilizers with little to no nitrogen. That can work in areas that have nitrogen available in the air (think thunderstorms) or in the water source. It works especially well in areas that are very warm because the available nitrogen is processed very efficiently by the soil bacteria. But that approach can quickly lead to too much variegation in other regions, especially those areas that are colder. As pretty as an all-white foliage plant might be, it is death waiting to happen. The challenge is to control the variegation so that the violet has a very attractive look without being so variegated that it no longer thrives. Many growers have found that the secret lies in providing a balanced fertilizer, making certain the pH is near 6.8, and moving the plant to cooler or warmer areas as needed. Moving the plant at the proper time requires some common sense ("the plant room is cold during the winter") and some instinct ("the center of the crown looks too white"). Where to move it to? The air is likely to be cooler near the floor and warmer near the ceiling. The light must continue to be adequate in either location. Once those conditions are met to control the variegation, your violets should be able to bloom freely (according to the variety) in the same quality of light (along with the other optimum growing conditions) that would be required for most green varieties to bloom well. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork

Question: This is regarding mosaic variegation. I was wondering if there is any way to clarify the description regarding mosaic variegation. First,I just had someone tell me that there is actually three (3)different types of "mosaic" variegation. One like Lilian Jarret, and the others like Tommie Lou and another like a blend of the two like BMan's Irish Red and Cajun Heritage. I have always felt the the proper description would be accurately represented by the leaves of Lilian Sparkler. I am finding that everyone is interpreting First Class as the absolute standard, and they don't realize that the pictures in First Class are not being checked to see if they match tbe proper description. My first question: what is the exact description for Mosaic Variegation? My second question, Is there anyway that when the photos are submitted for First Class, that they can be checked for obvious mistakes, like showing a solid flower when it is described as a fantasy, or showing a plain leaf when it is supposed to be ruffled, or if it is described as a single pansy and the picture shows say a double star. I know it would be hard to distinguish the traits that are changeable due to culture and such, but some are not even close and if we are accepting First Class as the valid printed description, it is confusing to many to have the pictures not represent the variety accurately. I think that the pictures that don't accurately represent the variety should be taken out of first class, because if they don't match the description, then they are just pretty pictures of violets not a fair representation of the variety.

Answer: I think you are quite correct in pointing out that there is little consistency in what is called mosaic variegation. There doesn't appear to be any official explanation of the trait, so most of us rely on experience to recognize it correctly. "Lilian Sparkler" would be an excellent example of what has traditionally been called mosaic. I did a search in First Class on mosaic foliage and found that (of those pictured) Lilian-Sparkler-type-mosaic is by far the most common. On the other hand, there are some varieties where it appears there has been some misuse of the term and plants that actually have Tommie Lou variegation (variegation around the perimeter of the leaf) have been called mosaic in the registration. When breeders submit registration forms, they submit only a written form (no photo), so the registrar must assume that it is correct and that the applicant understands the terms being used to describe the variety. If you as a grower realize that there has been a mistake made, I would suggest that you contact the hybridizer/registrant directly to suggest that they change the description in First Class. Only the registrant can request the change in the legal paperwork. It is interesting that you bring up the question of the photographs matching the descriptions more accurately.... I just spent a week with Russian growers who raised the same question. It is inevitable that people will glance at a photo rather than search out the description in First Class, and it is almost irresistible to use the photo as the guide. No amount of teaching will change human nature. I promise that I will bring your concern to the appropriate people. Happy Growing! Joyce Stork


1)I have several variegated leaf African violets that are losing all the white or pink and the new leaves are turning plain green. What causes this and once this starts is there anything I can do to stop or prevent it?

2)Do these varieties require different light & fertilizer than the plain varieties?

3)If I have to start a new leaf do I start one of the older variegated leaves or a newer plain green one?


1)African violets commonly lose variegation if they are getting too much nitrogen or especially if they are being grown too warm. Variegation is a stable characteristic which will reappear when conditions change. As winter approaches, it is likely that you will see a reappearance. Please note that the specific variety determines the perfect temperature for maintaining the variegation... some hybrids variegate too much at 72 F while others may begin growing quite green at that same temperature. A good trick is to watch the plant and move it to a higher (and warmer) location when the center leaves are more than 50% variegated and to a lower (and cooler) location when new leaves are showing little to no variegation.

2)They require more perfect conditions because variegation is actually a lack of chlorophyll in the leaf. Extra nitrogen will make them greener and little nitrogen will make them more variegated, but if the plant is unable to photosynthesize efficiently, you won't get flowering.

3)Because the variegation is stable, it is always best to use one of the greenest leaves. It should not be so young that it still has considerable growing to do, nor should it be an old leaf that has begun to fade. Watch the plantlets that develop closely so that they maintain their green color (by maintaining a temperature that discourages excessive variegation). After they are divided from the clump they will variegate in the same way that the parent plant did.


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