There are some plants that are called Chameleons because of the number of colors in their leaves, but there are also many plants that change considerably based on climatic or environmental conditions. This has led to several plants that were once thought to be separate species, later being found to be identical.
Through the seasons
Of course, many plants change their leaf color through the seasons. Picea pungens ‘Gebelle’s Golden Spring’ starts the season with new growth being almost pure white, then slowly turning to cream and by summer they are green.
Deciduous trees put on magnificent fall color displays, the vibrancy of which is influenced by day and night temperatures as well as moisture levels.
Hydrangeas change their color based on soil acidity. While many hydrangeas will be sold as pink or blue or white, adding sulfur, peat or other acidifiers will make the blue more pronounced. One plant I had in a previous garden would have red, blue and purple florets all on the same inflorescence.
Some plants have flowers that start one color and change to another as they mature. One example of that is Fuchsia ‘Galadriel’. Its flowers open as beige and red and before the flower drops, they have become pink and magenta.
Others change color based on environmental conditions. There are a few examples that we have in the garden, but Aloe ‘Bright Star‘ is perhaps the most pronounced. Take a look at the two pictures below and be honest – would you believe that this is the same plant? There is no mistake about it because the red one is a pup from the green/white one and when it was removed, it was the same color as the parent.
The green one is an indoor plant. Its home is about 6 feet away from west and south windows. It gets bright, but light that is filtered by the windows. Temperatures in the house are fairly stable around 70F. The red ones have been kept outside since they were pupped and received direct east/south sun exposure. They were also out in a lot colder temperature, but I think it is light exposure since I recently brought them into the greenhouse for the winter. So far they have not changed color at all. Perhaps they will and then I will have to come back and modify this blog.
Differences in light are probably the biggest reason why plants change color. In some ways they put on sunscreen and there are quite a few plants that do this. Many plants will be green in the shade but put on a different color in full sun. Two examples of this that we have are black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Kokuryu’) and Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’. Both of these plants are quite green in shaded conditions but are a lot blacker in full sun.
Do you have any favorite chameleons? I would love to hear about them.