En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Wednesday - April 11, 2007

From: austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Trees
Title: Variegated leaves on Ungnadia speciosa (Mexican buckeye)
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I grew some mexican buckeyes from seed last year and one of them has variegated leaves. I haven't seen this before- have I just not looked at enough mexican buckeyes up close or is this an uncommon finding?


No one I've talked with here at the Wildflower Center has ever seen a Ungnadia speciosa (Mexican buckeye) with variegated leaves, so I guess we can say it is rather rare occurrence.

Variegation, with white sectors in the green leaves, occurs when the chloroplasts (the photosynthetic apparatus in the cells of plants) lose their ability to make chlorophyll. This can occur when the DNA of the chloroplast is mutated. Cells of plants have from several to many chloroplasts per cell. Chloroplasts themselves reproduce inside the cells by simple division, so once a mutation occurs in a chloroplast it will be copied. As the number of mutated chloroplasts increase inside a cell, the chances of a dividing cell isolating only mutated chloroplasts in one of its daughter cells also increases. As the cells divide, those that receive only the mutated chloroplasts (and no normal chloroplasts) will be white. These cells with only mutated chloroplasts will divide to form more white cells without normal chloroplasts. On the other hand, cells that have at least one normal chloroplast will be green. This is how the variegation occurs.

These white sectors without chlorophyll are not capable of carrying out photosynthesis to supply the plant with nutrients; therefore, highly variegated plants with a lot of white sectors tend to be smaller and weaker plants since only the green areas are producing the energy to allow the plant to grow.

Some plants exhibit other variegation patterns with red, purple, and yellow sectors. In this case, other pigments are masking the green of the chlorophyll and photosynthesis still occurs in those sectors.

Back to the rarity of a variegated Mexican buckeye, the reason it is relatively rare is probably a combination of the fact that the mutation rate is low and the chances of isolating only mutated chloroplasts in cell are also low, plus the fact that variegated plants are at a disadvantage for competing with normal plants.

You can read more about variegated leaves and plant variegation.

Ungnadia speciosa

Ungnadia speciosa

Ungnadia speciosa



More Trees Questions

Screening Plants for Cape Cod
June 17, 2014 - I need to plant some fairly high growing leafy plants/bushes/trees for privacy and as a sound barrier in (the remains of) a pine forest in Cape Cod, MA. The pines grow tall and skinny so that we can s...
view the full question and answer

Leaves on maple turning red in June in Pittsburgh PA
August 01, 2010 - We live in PA and have a medium sized maple tree in our back yard. It is not a red maple. This year, in June, the very top of the tree's foliage turned bright red. This bright red started at the t...
view the full question and answer

Identificaation of different cultivars ofPrunus caroliniana
June 14, 2007 - How can you tell if you have a Carolina Cherry laurel or Carolina cherry laurel "compacta," or a Cherry Laurel-English? I have a line of four cherry laurels and one in the middle recently died an...
view the full question and answer

Non-native Boulevard Cypress Pom Pom trees in Princeton NJ
October 29, 2011 - I just had some landscaping done near my front door and front yard. I have two Boulevard Cypress B&B (4-5') Pom Pom. The pom poms are turning brown. What should I have been doing? I am watering them ...
view the full question and answer

Shrubs and trees to protect beehives in Godley TX
April 06, 2010 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Is there a (relatively) fast growing native small tree or large shrub (NOT cedar) that tolerates Johnson County clay, full sun, sometimes damp and sometimes dry soil with no...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center