From the Archives: Variegation in Clivia

As a horticulturist I have an interest in plant mutations, particularly variegation. The more I learn about variegation the more intrigued I become. When I started my research on the genus Clivia I knew there would be variegation in some plants but I didn’t realise the diversity of foliage variegation that I would discover.

The irregularly striped form of Clivia miniata is the most common type encountered. Every so often a variegated seedling will crop up in a batch of seedlings, particularly the hybrid types. The well established Japanese strain shows variation in the leaf stripe pattern. The new leaves can increase or decrease in amount of variegation. Sometimes completely yellow leaves will develop, with or without leaf distortion. Any new 4 shoots from the base of the plant will show the dominant colour of the foliage from that side of the plant, i.e all green, striped or completely yellow. I have found the yellow portions easily damaged by sun scorch or fungus.

One of the most striking variegations is the form with bold yellow margins. An article in a RHS Journal outlined the development of a cultivar called ‘Demeteria’. The plant, which was a chance seedling mutation in a batch grown by Demeter Nurseries of Belgium, was displayed for the first time at the Ghent Floralies in 1905. A similar type grown in Japan is called ‘Fukurin’ and is probably the same mutation.

A fine foliage Clivia that I grow is a form of our “common” C. miniata that has a centre stripe/stripes of gold. The gold colour is reduced to a paler lime-green in too much shade. The trick is to grow it in a bright enough area to colour the leaves without causing leaf burn. I have pollinated this form with several other Clivia types and the fruit produced shows some striping also. This is said to indicate the potential variegation of the seedlings from seeds in that berry. No form of variegation has appeared in seedlings from these crosses, but further breeding may prove interesting.The irregularly striped forms may be reproduced by seed, even if crossed with normal leaf plants. A range of seedlings will result, from plain green through various stripes to all yellow seedlings that are weak growers. Subtle green on green variegation has the potential to produce better variegated plants in subsequent generations. Look for the striping on the berries and see what results you get. The margin variegation is harder (impossible?) to continue through seedling production. Vegetative propagation is a sure way to perpetrate this very desirable form. Although I note that the RHS Journal article claimed that self pollinating the cultivar ‘Demeter’ produced a large percentage of variegated seedings, with only one or two seedings approaching the beauty of the parent plant. I have grown a batch of seedings from self pollinated flowers on an irregularly striped form and all the seedlings turned out lime green. I don’t expect them to survive.

An unusual and rare variegation is a Japanese form where the base of the leaf is creamy yellow and the leaf tip is normal green. Each colour about half and half, which reproduces true on each new leaf. A seedling is a batch of hybrids that I grew had a seed leaf that emerged gold and subsequently aged to green. Each new leaf behaves in the same way. As it is only a seedling, I don’t know how it will act in a breeding line yet.

It appears that the variegated leaf character can be found in various forms on plants of the broad leaved, tall growing hybrids, through the typical leaf common type to dwarf plants grown for potted, flowering plants. In a large batch of seedlings of the cultivar ‘twins’, a group of variegated seedlings have been isolated to develop that character. Most of the variegation in Clivia is a creamy yellow to deep yellow colour. Pure white variegation is rarely produced. C. miniata has produced the forms grown today. I have been told about a white variegated C. nobilis in Western Australia that was unfortunately lost to disease. I wonder if anybody has been fortunate enough to find a variegated C. caulescens, C. gardenii, C. nobilis or C.x cyrtanthiflora?

It just goes to show how interesting and diverse leaf characters can be. We can add the variety found in flowers to the foliage variegation and produce some unusual combinations. And if we leave the foliage plain green, there are variegated flowers waiting to be developed. So keep your eyes open for any differences in both foliage and petal coloration.

By Ken Smith
Clivia News No 2 1992