Plant Lingo Explained - Variegation & Fenestration


A characteristic of plants that is on everyone’s radar is variegation. It’s a fashionable plant oddity that is defined as the appearance of differently coloured zones, patterns and spotting in the leaves and occasionally on the stems and fruit of plants. 

Variegated plants can be found on the floor of tropical rainforests, but most are cultivated in nurseries. Plants that have cells of more than one genotype are considered chimeras, and variegated plants are the most common and easily recognizable type of chimera. Technically a defect, variegation is caused by mutations in the plant that impact chlorophyll production (what makes plants green) giving the plant unexpected white or pale markings. 

Even for plants that aren’t green, variegation still occurs thanks to a lack of pigment in the plant cells. Dominant pigments like carotenoids appear in a range of yellow and orange hues, whereas anthocyanins come in shades of red and purple. 


Plant defect or plant rarity? 

The striking look of variegated plants is a coveted characteristic among nursery growers and plant lovers alike due to the distinguished markings on the plant. Some growers deliberately try to induce variegation, breeding plants to enhance the aesthetic appeal of their variety’s rarity. 

Variegation can affect distinct sections of the plant. It can subtly blend between sections or overwhelm the entire appearance of the leaves. Variegation is not widely naturally occurring perhaps because it doesn’t aid in plant survival in the wild: The less chlorophyll means the less energy the plant has, and without energy, plants cannot convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose. These conditions add to the perceived rarity of variegation because these plants grow more slowly due to their slightly malnourished state. To keep up with non-variegated growth, these mutant plants require a lot more sunlight — but make sure it is indirect, filtered light. The translucent white on their leaves is susceptible to sun damage. 

Generally, caring for a variegated plant isn’t much different than its non-variegated sibling. The biggest difference between non-variegated and variegated plants is something you’ll notice before you ever bring the plant home: The price tag


Unlike most variegation, fenestration occurs naturally in plant species like Monstera Deliciousa, known for its Swiss cheese-like holes. Fenestrate or perforate leaves develop holes as the plant matures, caused by the lack of cell growth in parts of the leaf. The characteristics of fenestration or perforation vary by size, shape, and quantity of holes in the leaves depending on the plant species, and can vary widely within the same species. 

No one knows why fenestration happens. Other than the flair of plant fashion, its purpose is unclear but hypotheses abound. The holey gaps could help the leaves avoid tearing in high winds or increase how much water reaches the soil to feed the roots of the plant. 

pink swiss plant

Difference is desirable 

The unpredictable holes of the leaves makes these plants sought-after. The deeper the split, the more popular they are. The Latin root, fenestratus, translates to, “provided with openings,” conjuring the imagery of small windows opening up the leaves’ wide green canopy.

Fenestration typically occurs in plants three years and older, so taking good care of your plant and ensuring its long life will usher in the holey cheese leaves you crave. All you have to do is help it grow. You can encourage holes by trimming the elderly small leaves that spring from the base of the plant and spark the growth of larger perforated leaves above. 

Understanding popular lingo is one way to delve deeper into the world of plant care. Stay curious and critical about the trends that sweep through the industry and pay attention to characteristics with lasting power — to encourage a long life of mutually beneficial care between you and your houseplants.