When you think of grass, trees, or houseplants, you probably think of the color green more than any other color. But do you know what it is that makes plants green? And what about plants that aren’t green? Let’s take a deep dive into the science behind colors in plants and foliage.
Plants look green to us because they absorb and use red light, while reflecting green light. The visible light spectrum is made up of all the colors of the rainbow, from red to violet. We see objects as different colors because some colors of light are absorbed by objects, while others are reflected. The colors that are reflected are the colors that we see.
Why Do Plants Absorb Light?
Plants absorb light to make sugars. These sugars provide the energy they need to grow. The process of converting sugar to energy is called photosynthesis. The pigment that absorbs the light in plants is a photoreceptor called chlorophyll, which is responsible for the green color of most plants.
What About Plants That Aren’t Green?
We’ve all seen plants that are only partially green, and some that don’t seem to be green at all. How do all of these variations occur?
Some plants contain pigments that cover part or all of the green cholorphyll pigment in plants. Other plants have cells that contain no pigment, which creates what is known as varigated varieties of plants. These plants still contain chlorophyll, and create their own food just like traditionally green plants. Living beings that create their own food (like most plants) are called autotrophs.
There are also plants that do not contain any chlorophyll at all. These plants are called heterotrophs, because they do not create their own food. Instead, they feed on fungi and other plants. Heterotrophic plants include the dodder, the Dutchmen’s pipe, and the Venus flytrap.
Popular Colorful Houseplants
Are you looking to add some colorful, not-just-green houseplants to your collection? There are thousand of houseplants that have colorful, patterned leaves. Here are some of the most popular colorful houseplants, and instructions for their care.
Polka Dot Plant
Polka dot plants (Hypoestes phyllostachya) are known for their brightly colored pink leaves flecked with green spots. You can sometimes find polka dot plants that have red, purple, or white coloring as well.
Polka dot plants are relatively easy to care for. They do best in partial shade, with well-draining soil and regular watering. If your polka dot plant’s soil feels dry to the touch, it’s time to give it a drink.
The Chinese evergreen plant (Aglaonema commutatum) is a popular choice for interior decorating because of its colorful leaves. Its green leaves can be flecked with dark green, red, or silver.
The Chinese evergreen does best in acidic soil, with partial to full shade and moist soil. Take care with this plant if you have pets; it is toxic to both dogs and cats.
Wandering Inch Plant
The wandering inch plant (Tradescantia zebrina, also called the wandering Jew plant) is well-known for its striped leaves that reveal silver or purple coloring. The inch plant is also known for being a hardy and easy-to-care-for houseplant.
The wandering inch plant thrives in bright, but indirect, sunlight. They grow well in standard houseplant potting mix, with their soil kept moderately moist.
Begonia rex, also known as rex begonias, are much sought-after for their dark, strikingly colored leaves. They grow well in outdoor shade, but in recent years they’ve also become very popular as houseplants.
Rex begonias like bright, indirect sunlight, rich soil, and moderate moisture. You’ll want to water it when the top of the soil feels dry. The rex begonia can be finicky, so you may have to experiment to find the right combination of light and water that works for your plant.
Coleus plants (Plectranthus scutellarioides) are often used in outdoor landscaping, but they have become popular as indoor houseplants as well. Coleus plants offer a wide variety of bright, colorful leaves. No two coleus plants are quite the same, which is part of their charm!
The coleus plant loves partial to full shade, moist soil, and regular watering. Coleus plants grow very fast, so be sure to pot them in something that gives them lots of room to grow.
The croton is a gorgeous houseplant that can show a wide variety colors and patterns in its leaves. They are loved for their beauty and uniqueness, and they have a very dedicated fanbase.
Crotons can be difficult to grow as houseplants. They are very particular and like lots of humidity, warmth, and moisture. Crotons do best with bright, indirect sunlight, soil that drains well, and regular watering with lots of misting to preserve humidity.
Caladium plants are as beautiful as they are versatile. You can find caladium leaves with a wide variety of patterns and color variations, featuring green, pink, white and red coloration.
These lovely tropical plants tend to do very well as houseplants. Caladiums like shade, humid environments, and regular watering to keep the soil moist. With all the beautiful varieties available, you might find yourself growing one of each in your home!
Black Rose Aeonium
Aeoniums (Aeonium arboreum) are lovely succulent plants, and the black rose aeonium is especially well-known for its leaves, which are such a dark burgundy that they almost appear black.
Like most succulents, the black rose aeonium likes soil that drains well and weekly watering. The black rose aeonium needs full sunlight to develop the dark leaves its known for, but it will also grow in indirect sunlight — just without those gorgeous dark leaves.
Plants are green for a very important reason — the chlorophyll that makes them green also helps them make their food. But green is not the only color you’ll find in the leaves of plants. The world of houseplants has an endless variety of colors, variegations, and patterns, which is part of what makes growing houseplants so much fun.