How often do you find variegated plants in the wild?

My observation of Pariparoba (at research grade now thanks to @frank_arroyo) is of the sole individual with variegated leaves, growing in a stand of its kind with normal, solid colored leaves.

Although there are numerous variegated cultivars in horticulture, artificially selected and maintained by humans, I very rarely find variegated forms in the wild. Presumably, this is due to competitive disadvantage, i.e. the white patches on the leaves are wasted resources, unable to photosynthesize, and hence make the plant less efficient than the same kind with all-green leaves.

Who here has found truly wild (i.e. not persisting from past plantings), variegated mutations? And do they occur more frequently in certain taxonomic groups than others?


I’ve found several species doing it actually, I probably have the photos but I’m not sure I’ve posted them, or if I did how I would even find them. Usually its young plants since the variegated individuals seem not to live very long.

I think I found an aster of some sort doing it once. I’m sorry I can’t remember exactly what.


I see ones that are from viral infctions from time to time, but they don’t look as cool as those chosen by humans.


are variegated plants rare in wilds? if yes how


I also have found naturally variegated wild plants, sometimes, but rarely, including Porcelain Berry and Asiatic Dayflower.

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Fascinating topic.
Why is the plant variegated?
a. Natural trait expression
b. Probable pathogen virus, etc.
c. Nutritional deficiency

a. Here’s one I found while weeding. I thought it might have been the result of a virus, but evidently this plant can express a striping trait naturally.

b. However, I suspect this wild member of the legume family has a virus.

c. I found another which was the result of injury causing a nutritional deficiency.

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I don’t know if this counts as variegated (it has some dots on it, so maybe a virus or fungi?) but this plant was certainly wild:

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Perhaps variegation can sometimes be a plant’s natural defense from too much sunshine. So many tropical plants have striping.


The opposite is true sometimes. Consider Echites rubrovenosus, which to me looks like it would be an understory plant.

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Yes, it is striped like my understory plant.
However the leaf area of both plants is mostly dark green with the lighter color at the veining. Do the lighter areas of the leaf actually reflect light for use by the darker areas of the leaf as a way to maximize available light?

It would be neat to have a project for non-cultivated variegated plants. I’d join!


I had never seen it in the wild until I saw it twice in one day, on two different species. Both are forest understory species, and I am wondering if it is due to environmental conditions. We had an abnormally hot spring and dry summer.
Wood nettle:
Prickly Ash:


I see variegated Goutweed more often than I see normally-colored plants. I’ve also seen it on Red Deadnettle.

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You might be interested in reading about the Golden Spruce, Kiidk’yaas, that grew on the bank of the Yakoun River in Haida Gwaii. It had a rare gentic mutation that gave rise to golden coloured needles. The Haida people considered it sacred. It was felled as a twisted act of protest against the logging industry. More here and a link to a book about it:’yaas

My experience as a hobbyist gardener has taught me, as you noted, that variegated specimens do not thrive - they are slow growers, and fail to be robust, lacking the competitive edge - this makes sense when one considers it is a lack of the green pigment chlorophyll needed for food production in some of the plant cells which can be an be inherited (genetic) or occur randomly (chimeric) or is from viral infection.


It’s often assumed to be a defense against herbivorous predation, not sunshine. The premise is that variegated leaves look diseased or otherwise unhealthy to predators. I’m run across this proposed in a number of textbooks, but below are some academic articles for reference.

Lev-Yadun seems to have a particular interest in this issue:

Although others do suggest thermal benefits as well:

From my personal experience, I most often encounter them in well shaded understory plants, and those same plants in areas with more sun often do not express that trait. To me this suggests that the herbivory defense is more likely.


Thanks for all the articles. My weekend reading is taken care of.
Who knew there were so many benefits to variegation!
Variegation as herbivory defense whether leaf or fruit makes sense. My grandpa noticed that the squirrels left his white strawberries called “pineberries” alone :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:. They must have waited in vain for them to turn red (ripe).


There’s already a yes/no observation field labelled “Variegated”. Here are all the observations that have this field so far:


I believe that there are variegated cultivars of goutweed. Also, are you sure you didn’t see Lamium maculatum which is consistently variegated?

Hooray! Thank you. I will use this in the future.

Whenever I go for a morning walk,I see these plants almost everywhere. They are quite common in the place that I stay