society logo

speaker programs
plant notes



Variegated (adj.):
Marked With or Containing
Patches of Different Colors

by Nancy Schramm


I have a confession to make. I really love variegated plants. What's that you ask? Well, variegated plants have leaves that are more than basic green. They can be combinations of green and white or yellow, or three colors, such as green, pink and white. Variegated leaves can have patterns, spots, stripes, blotches or outlines. The tasteful use of variegated plants (that means you should use some plants with plain green leaves, too) in a landscape can make even the smallest garden more interesting. It seems like there is a variegated version available of almost every kind of plant, from fruit trees and herbs, to ground covers, vines, conifers, and definitely perennials. The two causes for variegation are mutations involving chlorophyll production, or more infrequently, viruses that infect certain plants. Hmmm. Mutations and viruses. That takes a little of the romance away, but we don't have to go any deeper into the technical stuff. Instead, let's look at a few of the variegated plants that intrigue me.

   Fig "Panache" or "Tiger Fig."

"Variegated Pink" is a type of Eureka lemon with green and white leaves, and green stripes on the fruit. It is a beautiful tree in the landscape, with a surprise. When you cut open the fruit, the inside is pink! Another variegated fruit tree is the fig called "Panache" or "Tiger Fig." The leaves are plain green, but the new stems are striped yellow and green lengthwise, as is the fruit. The stripes fade as the fruit ripens, but inside it is dark pink, and a tasty fig, indeed. Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill usually has fruit available during the season.

    The miniature ivy, Hedera helix, is probably the most common variegated vine, and there are so many varieties to choose from that it practically needs a column all it's own.

Another vine is a kiwi relative called Actinidia kilomikta that is absolutely spectacular. The heart shaped leaves are green at the top, white in the middle, and pink at the tip. But don't try to grow it here ­ it's happiest (and most colorful) in the Pacific Northwest. A better choice for our climate (but not readily available ­ sorry 'bout that) is the variegated Wisteria. It's a great reply to Wisteria critics who say the plant is only attractive when it's in bloom.

I'm very fond of two differently variegated Elaeagnus, often called Silverberry. Both are tough, attractive, large (6-12' tall) shrubs that will tolerate sun, wind, and rather dry conditions. E. x ebbingei "Gilt Edge" as the name indicates, has a bright yellow band around the 3" long green leaves. Plant E. pungens 'Maculata' nearby and see who notices that the leaf colors are reversed-gold in the middle, surrounded by green.

Another group of plants that give us some delightful variegation is the herb family, particularly the garden sage, Salvia officinalis. If you like purple, plant S.o. "Purpurascens." Plant "Icterina" if you'd like a gold border around each green leaf and 'Tricolor' if you want a special treat ­ gray green leaves with cream borders and pink tinges mixed in on the new leaves. Not to be outdone, Thymus x citriodorus "Aureus," the variegated lemon thyme has green and gold leaves and a wonderful lemon scent and flavor. I especially like using it on fish. There are also variegated versions of lavender (Lavendula x intermedia "Silver Edge") and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis "Joyce DeBaggio").

I usually don't grow many plants with thorns or sharp spikes, limiting the bloodletting, I suppose, but Opuntia "Joseph's Coat," a prickly pear cactus, will always have a home with me. The pads have a wildly patterned white and green variegation, and the new growing tips often have pink markings, making for a spectacular package. Many other succulents and cactus have stripes or spots or even intricate geometric patterns.

And then we look at perennials, and it's almost like Dr. Seuss has gotten to them. Hosta is a clumping shade lover with leaves on stalks that come straight out of the ground. Leaf shape can be anything from roundish to heartshaped, to very long and narrow, and the different color combinations are almost countless. Breeders release new varieties every year. The same with garden varieties of Heuchera, or coral bells. So many varieties are available that I can't keep them straight. The plant forms a mound, with lobed or scalloped leaves in colors such as silvery, red tones, peach or purple. I just saw one that looked like someone had splatter-painted cream on the green leaves.

A bold garden statement can be made by planting Hydrangea macrophylla "Lemon Wave" or H.m. "Tricolor" both of which have lacecap flowers and several different colors in their leaves.
I haven't said anything about the variegated grasses such as many of the Carex species, Hakonechloa macra, and Zebra rush, but I'm out of space!

Copyright. Out and About Magazine

           Third generation owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003. She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.

Contact Nancy at

Western Horticulture Society
PO Box 166, Mountain View, CA 94042
(650) 948-4614 or (650) 941-6136