A very common question at Shows is ‘Why do my variegated hostas (insert variety of choice) sometimes come up with plain green (or blue) leaves? And what should I do about it? Occasionally an anxious customer will tell us that their prized specimen has come up one spring with no variegation at all. The entire plants has ‘reverted’.
Occasional ‘reversion’ is common to many varieties of hosta and some varieties are more prone to it than others. Most often it will just be one or two eyes (leaf buds) that revert. In extreme cases the whole plant may lose its variegation.
If the whole plants reverts then there is no cure. You have ‘lost’ the variety you had. However, if just one section of the plant has reverted then the solution is simply to remove the affected part. If you can take the time and effort then trace the leaves back to the base of the plant and cut out the whole section with a sharp knife. In a large mature plant it may be enough just to take off the affected leaves and stems. We do this each year with a very large H. ‘June’ which always appears with a few blue leaves (its parent is H ‘Halcyon’.) It’s a temporary solution but the plant is so dense you don’t notice the missing leaves.
‘Reversion’ suggests the hosta is trying to revert back to its parent or to is ‘natural state’. Virtually all variegated hostas are cultivars and at some point in their ancestry were unvariegated. Reversion can be seen as a survival trait – a green or blue plant contains more chlorophyll and tends to be more vigorous than a variegated plant. George Schmid says that all variegated cultivars will eventually lose their variegation even if it takes a human lifetime for it to do so! Others point out that the unexpected change may not be reversion at all, but a ‘sport’ – a mutation, which if cut off with roots and planted, may be a new variety of hosta. So, before you discard the affected part, check your hosta’s parentage! You may have a new variety in the making!