A fragile poet. How to care for a variegated Monstera.
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
When I opened the shop just over a year ago, I managed to source two large Monstera deliciosa albo-variegata plants. One had the much desired half-white leaves, let's call him Mr Halfwhite. The other had a more marbled appearance, let's call him Mr Marbles. Mr Halfwhite sat in the shop for a few weeks, pampered by my staff and admired by all. But we couldn't stop the white parts of his leaves turning brown. We tried a brighter spot, we tried shade. No joy, still brown. Mr Marbles, whom I was caring for at home, seemed as easy to care for as a non-variegated Monstera.
I eventually took Mr Halfwhite home as well, intent on cracking the variegation code. A year later and pfffffft. The new leaves emerge looking perfect, but after a few weeks they start turning brown. I've been learning more about variegation and now I think I understand what's going on. So here's the lowdown on white variegation, why variegated monsteras are so hard to find, and what to look for when buying one.
Although variegation sometimes occurs in nature and can provide advantages to plants, some types of variegation are the result of cultivated mutations that don't provide the plant with any advantages. The Monstera's white variegation is a mutation that results in the lack of chlorophyll in some cells. Not only is this type of variegation not advantageous, it's also unstable. This means there's no guarantee a plant grown from seed or propagated from a cutting won't revert back to all-green. That may explain why growers aren't able to meet the high demand for this plant.
The lack of chlorophyll means the white parts of the leaf can't photosynthesise and are reliant on the green parts of the plant for energy. So, a large patch of white makes the leaf less efficient and can result in the death of the white part of the leaf. This is also why variegated monsteras grow more slowly than their all-green counterparts, and why the white leaves burn easily.
I now think of Mr Halfwhite as a sickly poet, a troubled creative genius, capable of great beauty but haunted by his fragility. I believe the trick to keeping him happy is to find a really bright spot, but with little or no direct sun. In the meantime, Mr Marbles is thriving in a west facing window that gets late afternoon direct sun. He's on a basic Monstera care regimen, with nary a brown mark to be seen. I propagated a new plant from Mr Marbles, which I gave to my shop manager Robi. She nearly cried, such is the power of white leaves. I hear baby Marbles is very happy and growing well. Mr Halfwhite's cutting on the other hand, grew roots but the leaves turned brown.
If you buy a variegated Monstera, I would highly recommend going for a marbled pattern rather than large patches of white. You can sometimes find small plants online in the UK, usually under 40cm tall for around £50, or cuttings from £40.