Variegation Variations, Another Plant Nerd Mystery….

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When the first red Caladium leaf with white veins and a green and red border opened, I was puzzled.  It didn’t resemble any of the 14 different varieties of Caladiums I had ordered this spring.

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And so I assumed that maybe I’d received a serendipitous bonus; a rogue bulb of a different variety had made it into one of my bags.  I headed back to the Classic Caladiums website in search of the variety to learn its name.  I searched the site every way I knew how, and yet still came up empty handed.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’

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By then another leaf had opened, and another, all from different bulbs.  I knew that it was indeed a mystery, but not a mistake.

When I heard from Lesley, in internet sales, on another matter,  I sent her a photo of my mystery Caladium.  She indicated that it might be C. ‘Peppermint,’ but promised to check with their CEO, Dr. Robert Hartman, and get back to me.

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I went back to the information on C. ‘Peppermint,‘ which I remembered as a mostly white leaf with a little green and touches of rosy pink.  This is a 2011 Caladium I’ve admired for a while, but ordered this year for the first time.  Sure enough, the photo resembled the mostly white leaves I remembered. (In re-checking the page tonight, at the very bottom of the webpage I see a photo of C. ‘Peppermint’ with the mostly rosy leaves I’ve observed.)

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All the while, our Caladiums kept growing and pumping out new leaves.  By the second week of June, I found a plant with both forms of the variegation on different leaves from the same tuber.  Now how odd is that?

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C. Carolyn Wharton in late May

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The older, traditional Caladium varieties are pretty dependable.  There will be some slight variations in the variegation on a plant like C. ‘Carolyn Wharton’ or C. ‘Miss Muffet,’ but not so much that you wouldn’t recognize them as clearly the same cultivar.  The leaves are more like each other and different from all other Caladium varieties.

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’ in September 2016 shows a lot of variation in its variegation, too.

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But I’ve noticed a wider range of variations on leaves within a cultivar from Dr. Hartman’s new Caladium introductions.  I noticed it first on C. ‘Sweet Carolina.’ 

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C. ‘Sweet Carolina’

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Depending on the amount of light, moisture and nutrition a plant received, it may vary drastically in both basic leaf color, and also the pattern and amount of variegation.  I find this very entertaining, and I learned to really appreciate this decidedly odd and very large full-sun tolerant Caladium.

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Caladium ‘Highlighter’ June 2017

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When I grew out C. ‘Highlighter’ the first year, I didn’t recognize the plants for a few weeks because the color of the leaves was so variable.  I assumed that some were C. ‘White Delight.’  Some leaves were nearly white and creamy with few markings.  Others were richly colored with many strokes of pink.  But I could trace those variations to culture, because the plants were grown in different locations in the garden.

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Caladiums Chinook and Highlighter blend together well June 2018

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On the same plant, growing in the same conditions, the leaves were similar to one another.

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The first leaf to open on a newly sprouted C. “Desert Sunset’ in late May appears as the reverse image of the C. ‘Peppermint’ leaf….?

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And then came C. ‘Peppermint.’  I was doubly puzzled because the variegation on the mostly rosy leaves was like a mirror image of some of the early leaves on C. ‘Desert Sunset,’ when grown in deeper shade.  How could this be?

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I hope to have the opportunity to discuss this high weirdness with Dr. Hartman some time.  He is the guru of Caladium breeding, and I am positive he has some wonderful stories to tell about new Caladiums he is breeding and the odd variations that he has observed.

I am wondering why two leaves from the same tuber would end up so different from one another.

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Calaldium, ‘Desert Sunset’

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I’m also wondering why the earliest leaves were rosy with white veins, but later leaves emerged mostly white, with some green and rosy pink markings.  What is going on in the plant?   Do growing conditions tip the tuber to produce one sort of leaf over the other?

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C. ‘Peppermint’

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There are many, many mysteries in the plant kingdom; I am only beginning to scratch the surface of the wonders of horticulture.  As with a child, what part of a plant’s growth is nurture, and what part is wild and crazy nature taking a leap to manifest as something entirely new?

I am endlessly fascinated by the work of hybridizers who delight in introducing new colors and forms of beloved plants, and new strains that are stronger, healthier and more versatile than older varieties.  They work with nature and natural processes to give us the great gift of a new and useful plant.

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I love the new Caladiums that can take several hours of sun each day because there are more ways to use them in the garden.

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And I am thoroughly enjoying watching all of my Caldiums grow into their potential this summer.  An ‘outed’ plant nerd extraordinaire, I just can’t get enough of observing the wonderful variations of their lovely variegation.

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Caladium ‘Peppermint’ left, and C. ‘Berries and Burgundy’ right

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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C. ‘Desert Sunset’ is one of the most beautiful Caladiums we have grown… what color!

 

 

About woodlandgnome

Lifelong teacher and gardener.

7 responses to “Variegation Variations, Another Plant Nerd Mystery….

  1. ‘Sweet Carolina’ is my favorite – it’s a beauty!

  2. Genetic instability does strange things. I would guess that some of those really fancy caladiums are quite unstable. Simpler variegated plants often revert to unvariegated foliage. Because the unvariegated foliage has more chlorophyll, it dominates and eventually replaces the variegated foliage. We have that problem with ‘President Roosevelt’ rhododendron, although I actually prefer the unvariegated foliage. I see this cultivar in landscape situations where gardeners do not bother pruning the unvariegated growth, and it eventually replaces all of the variegated foliage. It is frustrating to see. Caladiums might produce mutant growth for a while, and then revert back to what they were bred to do, or something else.

    • It is fascinating, Tony. I am wondering whether an herbaceous perennial growing from a tuber would behave the same as a woody, like Rhododendron. I had a Buddleia ‘Harlequin’ that eventually reverted back to showing no variegation over about 3 years. Obviously, I didn’t prune it properly. I hadn’t considered the role of chlorophyll in the reversion of a variegated cultivar to an unvariegated state. But it is so obvious now that you mention it! If I understood plant genetics more thoroughly, perhaps I’d understand what is happening with these really fancy and fun Caladiums 🙂

      • Herbaceous plants do the same, but it is more difficult to correct them because there is nothing to prune back to. Phomium tenax cultivars do it commonly. Although they can be plucked of mutant shoots, gardeners never do.

  3. Your Caladiums are really lovely!

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