Are Variegated Houseplants Tough Enough To Take It

What are the most popular or best variegated houseplants. To accomplish this, we checked the experiences of others in the growing community, visited nurseries and botanical gardens, and consulted catalogs and books on house plants.

Our first problem was to select the useful houseplants and those best suited to greenhouse conditions. Considerable differences of opinion arose because of the varying conditions in houses, apartments, and even in individual rooms. Humidity, light, and temperature are important controlling factors. 

Variegated HouseplantPin

A north room in a steam-heated apartment represents the most difficult condition while, on the other hand, some houses offer well-lighted rooms which can be kept nearly as cool and humid as a greenhouse. If large trays of pebbles filled with water are used and frequent syringing of the foliage is practiced, many rooms can be kept sufficiently humid.

For Winter bloom, a south window with full sun is almost a necessity, except for African violets and a few others, but many plants with ornamental and decorative foliage will tolerate much less favorable conditions than one would anticipate.

Dracaena, the Corn Plant

My first choice among the variegated houseplants is the dracaena, sometimes called the corn plant. The name means female dragon, and this plant comes to front Central Africa, indicating that it likes heat. Dracaena sanderiana is shaped like a corn plant and has white striped foliage; D. godseffiana is a branching type with white or yellow, oval, spotted leaves. 

The hybrid Eugene Andre is known for its red-striped leaves, and D. massangeana has greenish or yellow stripes. All benefits. from a weekly syringing of the foliage to guard against red spiders and to keep them clean as well. 

Do not expect them to make any appreciable growth through the Winter in the house, and they should have time to get acclimated indoors, for several weeks, before the heat is turned on.

Peperomia Obtusifolia Variegata

Peperomia obtusifolia variegata can take a hard, dry life; it has stylish green and white foliage. Pandanus veitchii, or screw pine, from India and Malaya, is related to the plants from which the grass hula skirts are made. Its foliage is smartly lined in green and white, and it is fairly durable.

The dieffenbachias produce attractive large leaves of mottled green and white. Known as “dumb cane,” the juice is supposed to affect speech temporarily, and at times it has been used for this purpose by those initiating new students at Kew Gardens in England. Some lower leaves will drop during the Winter, but smaller plants can be added to the same pot. or the plant may be used as a background for low-growing plants.


Sansevierias are practically indestructible, and the striped and partly-mottled foliage are their chief attraction, but most people find them dull. The tradescantias or wandering Jews, are most satisfactory, and they can be grown in either soil or water. Some of them have interestingly colored leaves.

Among the decorative plants which I find less easy to handle are the iresines, or blood-leafs. There are red, green, and yellow types that grow in either soil or water.

When the sun shines on their leaves and colored stems, they are particularly decorative. Closely related to the iresines are the well-known coleus or painted nettles, obtainable in a wide variety of colors and leaf patterns. They need the sun to keep their color. They are also very susceptible to gas. and need more humidity than the average home affords.

Hoya Carnosa

Hoya carnosa, the wax plant, several kinds of ferns, and several ivies are known for their variegated foliage, but they must have a humidity of 50% anyway. That, at least, is my experience.


The crotons are a fascinating group to me, and make a gorgeous showing of widely-variegated and brightly colored foliage, especially in Florida, where they are used as garden plants. I can carry some through the Winter in the house, but I usually lose a few. 

They need a temperature of 80° and 80% humidity, but if they have good roots, and are slowly acclimated to the house, they will survive with attention.

Humidity Is Vital

The chief reason that humidity is so important for plants is that a hot, dry house causes leaf transpiration faster than the roots can replace the moisture lost. Thus the leaves dry out and fall. More water at the roots does not help, as the plants cannot handle it. 

Closing a room at night, turning off the heat, and giving some fresh air without drafts is helpful. Pans of pebbles filled with water are practical, the bigger the better. Small trays with pebbles and water under individual pots help some. 

Humidifying air valves on radiators, and pans of water on top are other measures. There are also many electric humidifiers available. A fairly humid atmosphere is better for the occupants of the house. A humidity gauge is generally a good guide to have.

There are different opinions about variegated foliage plants. At our local show last Winter, I was pointing out my very best croton, with considerable pride, to a lady who seemed interested, but all I received in the way of appreciation was the remark: “It is dead, of course, isn’t it?” 

Another blow was given by one of our members who specialize in cacti and succulents, both of which I find dull, when he said, “All variegated leaves lack chlorophyll, you know, and are sick.” On the other hand, a recent visitor looking at my collection said, “Why, you don’t need any flowers at all with that color and variety.” 

After all, it is a question of what you like, and, once started with variegated foliage plants, you may find yourself amid an unexpectedly fascinating new hobby.

44659 by Melton L. Cornell