Variegation is a term that describes a leaf or flower that has two or more colors in a distinct alternating pattern.

In some cases, variegation is caused by a mutation in the meristem that results in a chimera.

Other sources of variegation include:

  • Pattern variegation
  • Transposons
  • Pathogen infection

Photo of a plant with variegated leaves.

Pattern variegation is a genetic trait of the cultivar.

It is an inherited trait and can be fixed by selection and seed propagation.

The pattern is due to different cells in a tissue expressing color genes. This is not a chimera

Photo of caladium leaves as an example of pattern variegation.


Photo of lily flowers as an example of pattern variegation.


One kind of pattern variegation is a repeating striped pattern like is seen in grasses and pines.

Photo of pine tree with yellow stripe patterns on needles.

Pinus densiflora 'Oculus-draconis' Eye of the dragon red pine

Photo of grasses with yellow stripes across blades.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' Zebra grass

A transposon is a movable genetic element. Transposons are also called jumping genes.

They can randomly move about the chromosome creating genetic mosaics.

They were discovered by Barbara McClintock working with Indian corn.

Photo of Indian corn showing evidence of transposons with it's variably colored kernels.

Transposons can cause spectacular variegation in flowers and leaves.

The effect is splashes of color.

They can be distinguished from chimeras because the variegation pattern is inherited from seed.

Photo of example of transposons in the Verbena flower.


Photo of example of transposons in the Hypericum plant.


Photo of example of transposons in the Barberry plant.


Variegation can also occur when a plant is infected with a virus that creates the differences in color.

In some cases they cause a variegated leaf or flower color and are perpetuated during propagation.

Leaf variegation in Abutilon as a result of virus.

Leaf variegation in Abutilon

Floral variegation in Camellia flower petals as a result of virus.

Floral variegation in Camellia

At one time, variegation in tulips was caused by a viral infection.

This was caused tulip breaks and was the cause for tulipomania in the Netherlands.

Photo of a tulip displaying variegation of it's petals.

Photo of tulips displaying variegation of it's petals.