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Plants: Gardens: Variegated Garden

It may be human nature, but we love the wild, the strange, and the bizarre. Whether it's a pink car or a purple house, people are drawn to things outside the norm. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that gardeners and nongardeners alike seek out and enjoy variegated plants, which defy the usual course of things in a world of solid green.


Plant variegation, by definition, is the appearance of irregular color patterns in plant parts, most commonly in the leaves and fruit. Variegated plants owe their very existence to these abnormalities and to people who propagate and foster those irregularities. A great place to observe and enjoy a wide selection of these unusual plants is at the San Diego Zoo's Variegated Garden near the Skyfari East terminal. Surrounding a duck pond, this garden highlights many eye-catching species in a picturesque setting.


Sometime before the 17th century, gardeners in Japan started experimenting with any plant that grew an unusual shoot that was different from the rest, perhaps with a white stripe or spot on a leaf. They used different ways of isolating the oddity to try and duplicate more like it. Today, we know that variegation in plants can be caused by several conditions: concentrated areas of dark pigments in leaf structures, light reflecting off air pockets, viral diseases, colored hairs, and genetic mutations, the most common form of variegation.


Our Variegated Garden does not have a monopoly on these special plants, just a high concentration of them. Once you know what to look for, you'll see them all over the Zoo. Variegated plants bring a slice of the wild and bizarre into a typically green world.