We all love flowers, but they come and go… Instead, colorful leaves stay with you all the time, especially indoors! And this is even more true with houseplants with variegated leaves… In fact, you can decorate, brighten up, even transform your indoor spaces with lush, often exotic foliage in all colors, not just green – and in most cases, they will stay evergreen, with reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and even white!
A beautiful houseplant can turn a dull room into a cheerful and energetic living space, and if you pick a variety with leaves of different color, the effect is greatly heightened. And there are varieties that can literally wow you and your guests with their multi-colored foliage.
Let’s see which ones are the best, picked among the most colorful and decorative, and all very different!
We will soon start with a real classic of indoor plants with variegated leaves, super colorful indeed. But maybe first we should understand what this phenomenon called “variegation” is, and why it happens.
What Do We Mean by Variegation?
“Variegation” may sound like a big word, but it has a simple meaning… If the leaves of a plant have two or more colors, we call them variegated. It is as easy as that. Then, of course this can take many forms…
For example, you may have foliage with clearly distinct colors, or shades that fade into one another… Or you can have leaves with spots, specks, or even large patches, or even a regular pattern, often following the margins and / or the veins… And, in some cases, you can get half and half!
When the under page is of a different shade from the top of the leaf, we usually do not talk of variegation, even if there is no hard and fast rule…
For sure, however, when leaves discolor (or even darken) because of nutrient deficiency or any other ailment, that is not variegation… That’s a problem you need to solve, as by variegated foliage we mean “when healthy”.
What Causes Variegation in Leaves?
When we think about a leaf, we think green… But this is not always true… Red, blue and purple are quite common, but why do you get mor colors together? Let’s see a few reasons…
Then, why is a leaf green? Because it is full of chlorophyll… But chlorophyll is not the only pigment that a plant can produce to photosynthesis… nor the only ones that produce colors! And in fact, a petal is only a modified leaf, so, in theory, a plant can have as many colors in its leaves as it has in its blooms. And as bright as well.
Different colors in pigments allow plants to capture different light waves, and some varieties naturally like to widen this range with different pigments. Succulents are exceptional at this; many can change foliage color very easily according to how strong or weak is sunlight…
Because variegation in leaves, both with houseplants and garden varieties, is very attractive… Many breeders, gardeners and botanists have selected varieties with colorful foliage. This is done by propagating plants by seed and choosing the offspring with more and more colorful foliage, till you get exceptional results.
You can also mix compatible varieties by cross inseminating them, and sometimes, when the foliage has different colors, you get one with two distinct shades… That’s the same that happens with flowers, and even with kittens, if you want a very clear example.
Viruses and Mutations
Sometimes, viruses can affect the way that plants produce pigments, especially chlorophyll… This happens to flowers too, and all tulips with beautiful white patterns and stripes actually have a virus… Actually, there can be many (6 main ones) and each with quite specific consequences.
This can happen to foliage as well, and the virus can actually mutate the plant DNA. For this reason, if you then select the offspring of one of these plants, it too will have leaves of different colors.
And so, you know that there are many reasons why your houseplant may have variegated foliage, and in many cases, it is a combination of factors, some natural, and some human in origin.
20 Variegated Houseplants in All Colors and With Decorative Patterns
There are quite a few exotic looking houseplants with colorful variegation on their leaves, and here are the very best for you!
1: Garden Croton (Codiaeum variegatum)
It’s called garden croton but it’s one of the most popular houseplants ever, and its fortune is all due to its amazing leaf colors!
True, you can grow it outdoors in tropical climates, but you can also transform your loving spaces into an explosion of light and bright shades, and you won’t risk losing it due to the cold!
Its large fleshy leaves can be about 12 inches long (30 cm) and they are a real carnival of greens, reds, oranges, yellows, purples and even bluish tonalities! It’s always a great surprise to watch this native of Oceania grow, because each leaf can have its own pattern and combination.
Following the veins and ribs of the glossy foliage, these kaleidoscopic displays change all through the year, and this has made it one of the world’s favorite varieties for living rooms and offices.
Garden croton is also a low maintenance plant; just give it the right growing conditions and mist the super colorful foliage to enhance their sheen and you will be wowed every time you look at it.
2: Tricolor Spiderwort (Tradescantia tricolor)
A lovely and colorful trailing and popular houseplant you can grow with very little maintenance is tricolor spiderwort, also known by its binomial name: Tradescantia tricolor.
A relative of other famous garden varieties, like Tradescantia purpurea, this semi succulent has a similar appearance with elliptical leaves that grow on draping stems, and a smooth, marble like surface.
But the foliage of this variety has something more to offer: it has stripes and patches of green, pink, purple and cream. These can be darker or brighter according to lighting conditions, but they are always very decorative indeed!
If you also want flowers, this is a good variety to pick! In fact, it will regularly blossom in winter with three petaled flowers at the tips, and they are white but opening from purplish buds!
Ideal for hanging baskets and small spaces, tricolor spiderwort will look great in shelves with its colorful trailing presence, but also on coffee tables and, why not, even to spark up your kitchen with its cheerful personality.
3: Butterfly Wing Plant (Christia Obcordata)
In case you are looking for a houseplant with a very unusual, surprising but colorful appearance, you should definitely look at butterfly wing plant! Native of Asia, it is suitable for both warm gardens and indoor spaces, and it was once grown in Japan and Indonesia for medicinal purposes.
These are now denied by scientific studies, but no one can deny its amazing decorative value. Yes, because its leaves are virtually triangular and divided into two, resembling butterflies!
And they are bright green with fairly regular purplish to brownish stripes, giving you a very artistic variegation. The effect is then heightened by the fact that the foliage grows fairly loose and layered on extremely thin branches, that you can hardly see, so, the wing like leaves do look like they are actually flying! White to pink pea like flowers will appear at the tips for a very long time, from spring to fall!
Provide your butterfly wing plant with a support structure, like a cage, and your living room will never look more fluttering and lively! It’s like having a wild prairie indoors!
4: Variegated Rubber Fig (Ficus elastica ‘Variegata’)
Rubber fig already has interesting tonalities, fading from dark green to purple on its foliage, but the ‘Variegata’ varieties brings this to another level!
In fact, this common houseplant will offer you artistic patches of different shades of green, copper, cream white, pink, orange and even blue! How these arrange themselves is always a mystery and a surprise, sometimes painting feather like patterns!
And the big oval leaves, easily reaching 12 inches long (30 cm) and 6 wide (15 cm), have a very special quality as well… As the name suggests they have a rubber like texture, but they are also very glossy indeed!
This is actually a tree outdoors, but as a houseplant, it will keep below ceiling level, fortunately. One thing you are unlikely to get from this exotic plant is blooms, but you won’t feel the need!
One of the most popular houseplants, variegated rubber fig will make a very bold statement to a living room or office, and it does steal the show, so, give it a prominent position in full view!
5: Variegated Swiss Cheese Plant (Monstera deliciosa ‘Albo Variegata’)
Get ready for a really stunning houseplant! Because variegated swiss cheese plant, well known by its scientific name, Monstera deliciosa ‘AlboVariegata’, is a real show stopper!
To start with, this climber from the tropical regions of Mexico has colossal leaves, which can easily pass the 18 inches in width and length (45 cm)!
But they are also famous for a very special trait: they have deep cuts and holes in them, and that’s why we call it after the famous cheese…
Heart shaped, the foliage of this variety offers you a stunning contrast between ivory white and green, which can range from bright emerald to dark forest!
This may appear in broad patches, or sometimes you may get a whole half leaf in one color, and the other half in another! The blooms are striking too, with a large spathe and spadix growing from the base, in white to yellowish, but it is virtually impossible to see it indoors.
By far one of the most dramatic houseplants ever, variegated Swiss cheese plant will definitely need an important place in a large room, even an important office, and don’t forget to give it support to climb up!
6: Black Rose Calathea (Calathea dottie)
There are quite a few Calathea varieties with striking variegated foliage, but one, called “black rose” or “rise painted”, C. dottie, deserves a spotlight! In your home as well!
Yes, because this much loved houseplant has very showy and super glossy leaves, with a broad ovate to elliptical shape and a lovely smooth wavy edges, and a sculptural relief undulation!
But, of course, it is the colors that we are looking for, and it will give you incredible patterns in dark purple, deep and vibrant rose pink, but also green and yellow when the foliage is young.
At times it may even appear to be black, and the shiny surface will enormously enhance the effect! You will also see what looks like a large feather depicted on it!
It may also blossom in the summer months, with small but clearly contrasting white or lime green flowers at the top.
A very intense houseplant variety, black rose calathea is like a living work of art to display on a table or desk, where everybody can see it and be wowed by its amazing variegation!
7: Royal Variegated Banana (Musa x paradisiaca ‘Ae-Ae’)
What’s more exotic looking than a banana tree? Ok, it’s not a tree, actually a colossal herb, related to ginger, by the way… And of course, most of us cannot grow them in our gardens, because they need hot weather, but we can indoors, and one particular variety, called royal variegated banana is arguably the best and most sought after!
Why? Its huge leaves can be 8 feet long (2.4 meters) and they display patches of dark and bright green, cream white and even some with bluish tonalities! They are also quite waxy and rubbery, adding a special glossy sheen to this display.
Flowers may also occur, though more often in the open, and they are spectacular! Nodding elongated egg like strictures with recurved bracts in purple, white and yellow! It may also produce the actual bananas, but – again – this is more common in gardens than in living rooms…
If you want to turn a living room or an office, or in any case a large space indoors, into a tropical looking island, and imagine you are sunbathing on a white beach by the sea, royal variegated banana is surely the variety of houseplant you wish to grow!
8: Golden Pothos (Epipremnumaureum)
Here is a classic of indoor spaces, one of the most popular and loved houseplants in the world for you: golden pothos! Maybe we all treasure it because it is super easy to grow? Maybe it is because you can literally keep it in a jar with water?
Or because you can propagate it by cuttings and fill whole rooms with it, or give it to friends? But there is one thing that stands out: its foliage!
The heart shaped leaves that hang from the long, fast growing trailing stems are an all time favorite, also thanks to their green and – of course – golden yellow variegation!
They are also quite glossy, and the actual coloring may vary a bit, depending on light conditions and the plant itself.
It is also a very flexible and eclectic plant, and a very forgiving one to boot. It will adapt to different conditions, even of ideal ones are best for good variegation.
A very common presence on shelves and trailing from the top of cupboards and wardrobes, golden pothos is a great variegated friend in most living spaces, from informal rooms, even bathrooms, to important offices.
9: Jungle Velvet Goeppertia (Goeppertiawarszewiczii)
Also known as jungle velvet calathea, this Goeppertiavariety from Costa Rica and Nicaragua can brighten up indoor spaces with its very decorative variegation indeed!
In fact, the long, arching and very leathery leaves will display a fishbone pattern of lighter and darker green on the top, but this can actually turn into a bluish tonality as well.
However, the under pages of its foliage are bright purple and they have a soft, velvet like texture, offering you further contrast and a dramatic effect.
The new leaves will appear as cones, furled up and of the same purple shade as the under sides, yet another beautiful trait for you. The blooms are an added and welcome bonus, but they are not very common.
Resembling those of turmeric, in structures that look like pagodas, they appear in the middle of the plant in late winter or spring, usually white and cream with bright rose pink blushes.
An easy to find and care for houseplant, jungle velvet goeppertiawill definitely add a touch of class and intense colors to an elegant office space or living room. It can work as both a backdrop or center piece.
10: Coleus (Coleus spp.)
Coleus is often grown as a garden plant, often in containers, but you can also have any of its colorful varieties indoors, as long as you have a brightly lit window sill. And if you do, you can enjoy its amazing variegated foliage, with virtually all the colors of the rainbow in beautiful patterns!
Green, yellow, orange, red purple, even almost black are all possible and in all combinations, and in all tonalities, often extremely vivid indeed!
These small plants can offer you splashes of joy with little care, all through the season, and choosing one can be a daunting task, because they are all beautiful!
When winter approaches, little spikes of pale bluish, lavender or white flowers will also appear at the tips of these little plants, to add an extra decorative touch. They are usually grown as annuals, but you could have it as a short lived perennial as long as it is still healthy.
Ideal for kitchen windows, coleus varieties will literally allow you to run wild with your imagination, thanks to the amazing palette of colors that you can choose from – with 294 species and over 1,500 cultivars, you can spend days picking one (or more) for your indoor (and outdoor) spaces. Unlike in gardens, it needs lots of bright light to grow in closed spaces.
11: Amazonian Elephant Ear (Alocasia x amazonica ‘Polly’)
If you want drama and an eye catching decorative contrast in your home or office, Amazonian elephant ear is your man! Its foliage is beyond impressive, long and pointed, back lobed leaves of a very strong waxy and remarkably leathery and texture, which look like elongated hearts or arrow head with wavy edges.
They are actually quite glossy indeed, and they will grow on robust petioles that can hold them outwards, or sometimes drooping – in fact, like big ears. And each can be a whopping 16 inches long (45 cm)!
No one knows the exact parentage of this hybrid, be we all recognize it by the pattern of big relief veins that are white or silver, and set against a very dark backdrop of deep green or even bronze.
On the other hand, the under pages will display purplish tonalities. The flowers are exotic looking as well, with a large whitish greenish spathe and cream to pale pink spadix, and growing at the base, but unlikely indoors.
Amazon elephant ears can easily win the prize as the most sculptural houseplant with variegated foliage ever! It is a real show stopper that deserves to be a centerpiece in a large room, like a living space or office.
12: Variegated Snake Plant (formerly Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii, now Dracaena trifasciata var. laurentii)
Variegated snake plant is one of the few houseplants with colorful foliage you can even grow in dark places, like corridors, or in a bedroom, even if you keep the shutters closed most of the day!
Its long, pointed and upright leaves will display a crocodile skin type pattern in darker and lighter shades of green or blue, while the margins have stripes of yellow, even mustard sometimes, that bring out the sculptural qualities of this well loved succulent.
The smooth, shiny surface makes sure that the contrast is strong and very eye catching. A slow grower, and a very reliable choice, maybe the most famous Sansevieria of all will also blossom with greenish and fragrant flowers in spring, which are followed by attractive orange berries in the right conditions.
This winner of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society is also an excellent air purifier and it can benefit from some time in the open air in the warm season.
Having variegated snake plant at home or in an office is like keeping a marbled sculpture that needs very little care, but it always surprises you with its beauty every tine you set eye on it, even if you forget about it for some time…
13: Rattlesnake Plant (Calathea lancifolia, or Goeppertia insignis)
You can easily guess why this Calathea variety is called rattlesnake plant, and it has to do with its variegation. In fact, if you look at it, it will remind you of the tail of the famous poisonous reptile!
The leaves are long and they look like spear heads, with a sharp look to boot, gently undulated and pointed. On the smooth and glossy upper page, you will see patches of darker and lighter green, which have a very exotic pattern, like the skin of many snakes…
The under pages, instead, will offer you a purplish color, which sometimes creeps onto the top of the leaf, at the margins, leaving some rose shades for you to enjoy… in late spring and early summer, a stem will grow from the base, and a wonderful bright orange blossom, similar to that of turmeric, will appear and brighten up your room!
In fact, rattlesnake plant is one of the most eager bloomers of the Calathea varieties with variegated leaves you can have, and the amazing foliage adds a touch of exotic drama to any indoor space!
14: Watermelon Peperomia (Peperomia argyreia)
From a variegated houseplant that reminds you of dangerous snakes, to an equally exotic variety that is the top of sweetness: watermelon peperomia!
The name comes from the fact that its very beautiful, harmonic, broad and almond shaped leaves have stripes of almost white and green, and the pattern they form make the foliage look heart shaped, and at the same time, it looks like a watermelon…
Glossy and hanging from the petioles in very dense and lush mounds, they also have a marble like quality that renders them very elegant indeed! The actual tonality of the green can go from bright to very dark, depending on light conditions.
Unusual looking blossoms can appear in summer as well: long purple stems will grow above the foliage and a cream colored “spike” will float above the plant: that is actually a flower!
A very accommodating houseplant, watermelon peperomia is an excellent addition to an indoor space that wants to express gentle elegance but with an exotic touch, and a favorite with children! Being small, it is also ideal for book shelves!
15: ‘Rainbow’ Echeveria (Echeveria ‘Rainbow’)
There are quite a few varieties of Echeveria with variegated leaves, but, of course, ‘Rainbow’ needs a special place among them! In fact, it is fully true to its name…
The succulent leaves are broad, spoon shaped and pointed, and you can see so many colors on them that it’s hard to know where to start! Blue and pink are dominant, sometimes tending to intense rose and gray, but you will also see some green, cream and yellow, even tending to orange.
The fact is that the decorative rosettes it forms change a lot according to the season and light conditions, so you get an always changing, but also always colorful display!
Equally suitable for outdoor and indoor growing, it will easily fit into small spaces as well, as it inly reaches 6 inches across. Unfortunately, however, this hybrid will not blossom, but it is still worth it!
Easy to grow and very playful, ‘Rainbow’ echeveria is one of the most colorful variegated succulents you can ever grow; the combination of tonalities and shades is just beyond belief!
16: Nerve Plant (Fittonia spp.)
Native of South America, especially Peru, nerve plant defines a genus of plants that can grow equally well outdoors or indoors, and, as a houseplant, it brings lots of colors even to small places. The little clump forming plants have lovely roughly ovate leaves with an amazing pattern on them…
The name refers to this, as it may look like a bran scan, or a nervous system… Or you could see a delicate cobweb in it, or simply a very artistic decoration, like embroidery.
And there are varieties in all combinations of green, yellow, blue, purple, white, orange and red! In all different shades and tonalities as well! It has an original, tropical look, but it is herbaceous in nature.
But this little beauty also flowers once a year, in summer, with little spikes that hold small white flowers which open in succession.
Maybe the best use for nerve plant indoors is to choose a few varieties and grow them in a tray or large containers together; you can also have it quite close to windows, unlike most other variegated houseplants.
17: Variegated Jade Plant (Crassula ovata ‘Varoegata’)
Jade plant already has some variegation when the season changes, with yellow tones appearing on the emerald leaves, but if you want a variety that always keeps this quality, pick the ‘Variegata’ cultivar!
In fact, s succulent and jewel like foliage will always display marbled stripes of cream white and green to gray, sometimes, some rose pink can also appear at the margins! This is quite common when this natural bonsai looking plant is exposed to plenty of sunlight!
Slow growing and tree like, it is a houseplant that brings serenity and beauty to indoor spaces, but it is equally suitable for warm outdoor gardens.
Lovely clusters of star shaped flowers may also appear, in pale pink or white, and they will do it when you least expect it: in winter!
But in order to achieve this, the hours of night need to be quite long, so, if you use grow lights, switch them off!
With a wonderful Asian personality, variegated jade plant is actually native of South Africa, but it will spark up your home or office with its oriental and colorful beauty, and it will require very little care!
18: ‘Triostar’ Never Never Plant (Stronanthesanguinea ‘Triostar’)
Now we come to a very colorful variegated cultivar from a native species from the Amazon Forest: ‘Triostar’ never never plant!
In fact, if you have a hot and humid garden, you can also grow it outdoors, but indoor conditions are usually better for this beauty… Winner of the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society, it offers you long, elliptical leaves with a glossy surface and purple under pages.
But it’s the display you see on the upper sides that makes it very valuable… Shades of white cream, bright rose to purplish, and deep green alternate in broad and bold patches, sometimes fading into each other and hitting very delicate notes when doing so.
Flowers are quite rare in closed spaces, but if they come they will do it in spring, with clusters of an am amazingly powerful crimson red!
With good humidity and correct lighting, ‘Triostar’ never never plant is a very eye catching houseplant with many colors on its leaves, and it can work well as a centerpiece on a table, or even as an exotic backdrop for other varieties.
19: ‘White Jewel’ Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘White Jewel’, or Dracaena fragrans ‘White Jewel’)
Among the many varieties of Dracaena with variegation, ‘White Jewel’ is one of the most striking of all. If others, like the well knownDracaena marginata tricolor offers you pink and purple stripes, our choice has a bold elegance of its own… the foliage is broader and lush looking, arching dense on the central stem, forming a very exotic looking tower of glossy blades, similar to those of cob…
But what makes them stand out is the large and clearly visible lines of white and very rich green that run along them. When it is young, you will get a very decorative bicolor rosette, but as it grows, its shape will resemble more and more that of a tower…
It can also branch off, taking the shape of a small tree, or you can enjoy the tufts at the end of the trunk and branches when it is mature. While all this makes it a very eye catching houseplant, it will not blossom.
A very valuable variegated houseplant, ‘White Jewel’ dracaena is so elegant and at the same time showy that it can suit even a very formal place, like an important office.
But even in more informal ones, it can really make all the difference. Unlike other varieties we have seen so far, it prefers cooler and even shadier environments. It can be toxic to pets if ingested.
20: Calathea Hagbergii (Calathea hagbergii)
A prayer plant from Ecuador, Calathea hagbergii completes our list of variegated houseplants with its many bright colors! Its foliage is long and pointed, and it can point outwards but sometimes the tips are lightly uplifted or downturned.
This gives you a very elegant shrub like tuft of glossy surfaces and a waxy texture, very lush and exotic looking! And now we come to the different shades of cream white, green (emerald, deep, pale), rose pink, fiery red and purple you can find on them…
They mix and match quite freely, in stripes or patches and sometimes they even fade into each other. The final effect is a kaleidoscopic carnival of tonalities that can compete with the rainbow itself.
While it is a flowering plant in its natural habitat, you won’t see its beautiful pagoda like blooms if you grow it indoors… That’s the only drawback.
One of the most brightly colored houseplants ever, Calathea hagbergiiis a naturally variegated variety with an explosion of colors that is always eye catching and surprising at every turn…
Lots of Colors for Your Indoor Spaces with Variegated Houseplants!
So, you can turn your office, living room, kitchen or even bathroom into a brightly colored and exotic looking environment, and not just green and lush, if you grow one of these variegated houseplants!
There are others as well, especially Calathea varieties, though we have seen some of the most impressive. Whatever your needs, there are plants with shades and patterns of all sorts, o all tonalities, and for all tastes!
Amber Noyes was born and raised in a suburban California town, San Mateo. She holds a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of California as well as a BS in Biology from the University of San Francisco. With experience working on an organic farm, water conservation research, farmers’ markets, and plant nursery, she understands what makes plants thrive and how we can better understand the connection between microclimate and plant health. When she’s not on the land, Amber loves informing people of new ideas/things related to gardening, especially organic gardening, houseplants, and growing plants in a small space.