Camellia Variegation

Some of our favorite Camellias are variegated.  From blotches of white that intermingle with reds, whites, and pinks to colorful stripes, streaks or flecks, variegation makes such interesting and beautiful floral displays.  Often, variegation can also be found in the leaves.

Many plants produce variegation, but none so quite profound as with Camellias.

There are two types of variegation.  Genetic and Virus.

Genetic variegation is a natural attribute in many camellias.  It can present itself as stripes, flecks, or irregular color patterns in petals.  You may also see some slight variegation in leaves.  Genetic variegation is as normal as hair color and eye color.  Sometimes these genetic characteristics are passed onto seedlings.  It is not likely that the genetics of the plant would pass onto other plants by grafting, whether using it as rootstock or using a scion to graft onto another rootstock

Genetic variegation is not controllable and is not removable. It can also be unpredictable.  Different patterns or color combinations can show up at any time.



Virus Variegation is a desirable characteristic that is transmitted from one plant to another.  This is not necessarily a bad virus and is used quite extensively to create alternatives to solid color flowers.  It is mainly transmitted through grafting.  A virus-infected rootstock can transfer the virus to a solid-colored scion that is grafted onto it.  Likewise, a virus-infected scion can pass the virus onto a solid-colored rootstock.

Virus variegation can destroy colors on leaves or flowers and is seen as white blotches.  Some strains of virus show as a water-colored appearance.  Leaves of virus-variegated flowers may show random yellow mottling.

Virus-variegated plants can show sun sensitivity and slower growth rate than non-virus-variegated plants.


Many times plant breeders will simply add “Variegated” to the name of the solid flower name.  Such as Royal Velvet and Royal Velvet Variegated.   Others may choose a different name entirely.  Sometimes this can lead to confusion because genetically speaking, the two plants are identical.

Once a virus has been introduced to a plant, it is in the plant for good.  How it expresses itself is a mystery.  Often you’ll see a limb or two revert back to the solid form, only to find that later branches that come off may be variegated.  Some varieties may be able to be isolated by taking a known cutting that reverted back to the solid form and rooting it.  We have successfully done it with Tudor Baby Variegated on one or two plants.  But you never know when it will spring back up.

There is some thought that by taking a variegated cutting and grafting it on a virus-resistant plant like C. oleifera may get rid of the virus, but we don’t know if that is proven or just a theory.