Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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?

Share

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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

Privacy hedge for South Dakota
August 08, 2008 - Hi, I'm looking for something to use as a hedge. 8 foot or so tall offering semi privacy all year. I like dogwoods but loss of leaves in the winter makes me skeptical. Boxwood would be interesting...
view the full question and answer

Plants for under live oak in Houston
July 09, 2011 - Hi, We have a live oak in our back garden in Houston and would like to plant a combination of some native shrubs and flowers near it (preferably perennial). The garden bed is about 4 metres from the...
view the full question and answer

Identity of Hercules Club from Lathrup Village MI
October 12, 2009 - Thought the shrub was Hercules Club but when looked at photo on line, totally different leaf. Mine has palmate leaf rounded at the tips, spines that are short but substantial. Branches arch somewhat a...
view the full question and answer

More trees to go with live oaks in Schertz TX
July 13, 2010 - We moved to a new house that has two recently planted live oak trees. Other than those two little trees there is nothing else on the property. Because of what I read about the oak wilt I would like ...
view the full question and answer

Columnar evergreen for Colorado
July 04, 2008 - I am looking for an evergreen 6-8 (or more) feet tall, very columnar; 3 feet spread in diameter, zone 5, full sun, dark green, clayish-OK soil. Thank you so much!
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.