By Angelo Randaci, Earth’s Ally Horticulturist
Angelo's passion for plants has led him to explore many areas of horticulture including research, grounds management, technical training, design and nursery management.
Long ago, the color of a person's clothes showed their social rank. Green was used to identify a person as a merchant, banker, or part of the gentry. Until the end of the Middle Ages, green was dull and not notable. But all that changed when different shades of green were discovered by botanists and horticulturists who roamed the world collecting new specimens never seen before.
The earliest recorded evidence of plant hunting was in 1495 BC when botanists were sent to Somalia to collect incense trees for Queen Hatshepsut. Before that time and since then nomads have always traveled the world collecting and sharing all types of treasure, with plants—for spices, perfumes, and food—always at the core of the collections. The Victorian era saw a surge in plant-hunting activity as botanical adventurers explored the world to find exotic plants to bring home. When the new plants arrived, people began to awaken to the fantastic colors they had not noticed previously. These spurred new collections of shapes, flowers, growth habits, and especially leaf color. The collectors discovered green in a new way.
So when is green just green? Never. While there are easily 50 shades of green, many, many more exist within the plant world.
The color green comes in many different shades, tints, hues, and combinations. These shades differ in chroma, brightness, or a combination of these qualities. These shades differ depending on the types of pigments within the leaf. Chlorophyll, the green pigment that soaks up energy from the sun, is the reason plants are green. The word chlorophyll comes from the Greek words khloros for green and phyllon for leaf. Other pigments within the leaves, orange, reds, and yellows are also present, sometimes to a lesser degree, and sometimes in higher concentrations. The combinations and concentrations of pigments dictate the different colors and patterns in foliage. Along with all the color pigments the leaves still contain chlorophyll.
How do we add various greens to our plant palate? Consider some of the choices available today in the plant world.
- Kelly green is a strong vibrant yellow-green
- Mint green comes from the dark green peppermint plant
- Olive green is a dull ocher-yellow green
- Hunter green is dark green with a slight yellowish cast
- Myrtle green is dark green with a bluish tinge
- Citron is grayish-green with yellow undertones
- Brunswick Green is dark green with copper tones
- Harlequin is halfway between green and chartreuse
- Shamrock is the bright green color of spring
- Hooker's green has hints of Prussian blue and deep yellow
- Jade varies from bluish green to yellowish green
- Malachite is a deep forest green
- Sea green has a light tinge of blue
- Turquoise green with a heavy hand of blue
- Lime the color of a ripe juicy lime fresh from the tree
- Celadon a pale almost lichen green
- Xanadu is greenish gray
- Chartreuse is a bright greenish-yellow shade
- Fern green is the color of a fresh fiddlehead as it unfurls
There are other names for green: Jungle green, Screamin’ green, Sap green. Apple green, Pistachio, Mantis, Spanish green, Slimy green, Bitter lemon, French lime, Evergreen, Avocado, Artichoke green, and Tropical rainforest to name a few. The list goes on and on. The point being green is not just green, and all the various shades, tints, and hues can easily be used by coordinating and contrasting the shades as you expand your green plant palate and incorporate all the lovely greens.
The term “variegated” is derived from the Latin word variegatus meaning “composed of various colors”. Variegation is the result of a cell mutation, inherited (genetic), randomly occurring (chimeric), or even viral as in a mosaic virus. Plants depend on their green portions to convert sunlight into energy (photosynthesis). Foliage is multicolored because it lacks chlorophyll pigment in some areas of the leaf. These astonishing colors are pronounced within the many types of variegation.
The outcome is to our benefit as the foliage is available in assorted color combinations, greens, creams, silvers, whites, and yellows in colorful stripes, spots, and blotches which we can use creatively in houseplant design.
Using Shades of Green in Houseplant Design
Leaves in shades of reds, yellows, pinks, and combinations of these are warm colors that evoke feelings of warm things such as sunlight and heat. They also tend to make a room seem cozier and more intimate. Plants with blues, silvers, purples, and green foliage are cool colors that typify water and sky. They provide a soothing, comforting visual experience. They work well when combined with either light subdued shades or bold interior colors. Cool colors are useful to make small rooms seem more spacious. Silver and gray foliage will match just about anything in your home.
Think of designing with shades of green in your home the same way you would outdoors as many of the same rules apply. Foliage with bright, warm colors creates a sense of movement and excitement whereas cool colors and pastels create a calmer feeling. Complementary shades of foliage create contrast. Consider using a single specimen as a living showpiece to be displayed in a prominent area of your home.
Matching the Many Shades of Green to Compliment Indoor Décor
The green color palette: The green color palette for interior foliage is extensive offering many ways to use the different shades.
Tip: when choosing paint colors for your walls, keep the color swatch and use it to match or contrast containers and plant shades with your new color.
Other Influences that Affect Shades of Green
Every plant has its own shade of green when healthy. To preserve foliage color, keep your plant healthy by ensuring that it receives proper light, temperature, and nutrients.
Soil that drains poorly will cause foliage discoloration and stunted plants.
Light, Temperature, and Age
The amount of light your plant receives will affect the color of the leaves. Variegated leaves will lose color in low light conditions because the plant will produce more green-dominant leaves to photosynthesize. You can increase the vibrant colors of leaves by increasing light. In general, provide bright indirect light for your houseplants or morning sun but avoid full afternoon sunlight that could burn the leaves.
Temperature is also a factor. If your plants are in a very hot or very cold area, they may also lose leaf color. Variegation may revert to green or your plant may suffer from stress.
The age of a leaf also influences the shade of green. Young leaves may be lighter green color or start out pink, then turn to a dark green as they mature. This often presents an attractive plant with different colored leaves present at the same time.
Older leaves lose color, turning yellow or brown as they reach the end of their lifespan, and should be removed.
Plants lacking in nutrients may display lighter green or even yellow leaves. Leaves that are light green with darker green veins are often a sign of iron chlorosis due to a nutrient imbalance. Acid-loving plants like gardenias are prone to nutrient deficiency if the pH is too high. Maintaining proper pH levels in your soil can prevent this. If pH is either too low or too high, nutrient uptake will not be optimal.
Proper fertility will help your plants maintain their optimum shade of green. Under-fertilizing may cause poor health with pale-colored leaves whereas over-fertilizing can burn foliage or cause yellowing of leaves.
Pests and Plant Disease
Plant diseases such as powdery mildew, rusts, leaf spots, and blights will affect foliage appearance as will pest damage. Inspect your plants regularly for problems and treat them with an organic fungicide, insecticide, or miticide, such as Earth’s Ally 3-in-1 Plant Spray. Even if you don’t present have pests or plant disease, it’s wise to still apply on a preventative schedule.
Learn: How to Identify and Treat Plant Disease
- Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants. To avoid this issue, create a well-draining potting mix. Add an additional 20% perlite to your average potting soil to help drainage especially if you tend to overwater your plants. You can also transfer your plants to clay pots which will allow air and moisture to move through the clay.
- Remember to keep your plants on the dry side until periods of active growth, which usually begin in the spring as temperatures rise and more light becomes available.
- Do not apply fertilizer until plants show signs of new growth.
- Plants will display their optimum color in bright, indirect light. Consider adding supplemental lighting if you wish to have a plant in a darker area of your home.
6 Easy Houseplants Offering Different Shades of Green
These six plants are striking, easy-care plants that will transform your indoor space. But before you commit, do a little research. Make sure the plants you choose are a good fit. Consider things like water and light needs, plant toxicity for people and pets, habit, size, and color. It is also a good time to hide an ugly nursery pot that came with your plant and pick out a container to go with your décor. You can place the nursery pot inside the new container until repotting is necessary.
All of the plants listed below are available in other forms, habits, and foliage colors.
Monstera deliciosa (Swiss Cheese Plant)
This is one of the best plants if you are looking for a big, bold, green-leaved plant. The name itself suggests a monstrous plant but it possibly could come from the Latin word monstrosus or abnormal for the unusual leaves that have holes in them. The shapely carved leaves offer a sculptured presence that will fit perfectly into any interior design where a large plant is desired. For a smaller monstera, look for Monstera adansonii.
Philodendron hastatum (Silver Sword)
For silver of blue-ish
This philodendron literally shines with its metallic silvery-blue leaves. Silver sword is a climbing vine that likes to grow up a support such as a trellis or moss pole. It will adapt to most indoor conditions with bright light.
Epipremnum aureum (Neon Pothos)
For yellow or gold
Neon pothos is a popular and eye-catching variety of pothos. Its bright golden heart-shaped leaves will brighten up any area of your home. Pothos will thrive either as a trailing or climbing vine. Other colors of pothos selections are available as well. A few worthy of mention are: Marble Queen, Golden Pothos, Pearls and Jade, and ‘Snow Queen.
Note: All parts of pothos plants are considered toxic to cats, dogs, and humans if ingested. If you have indoor pets, check out our list of 10 Houseplants that are Safe for Cats and Dogs.
Syngonium podophyllum (Arrowhead Vine)
For an easy-to-grow houseplant with pink leaves, pink syngoniums will add color to go with just about any interior color scheme. They are tolerant of low light, but bright indirect light will help to maintain the beautiful pink leaves. They are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures above 50 degrees. Keep soil evenly and lightly moist
Tradescantia zebrina (Zebra Plant)
This very tough plant will thrive in almost any environment indoors. Zebra plants create effective displays when used in hanging baskets or when added to container plantings. Give them plenty of bright light to maintain the zebra stripes. Pinch back leggy stems to encourage branching.
Aglaonema sp. (Chinese Evergreen)
For red, orange, and pink
Chinese evergreens thrive in many interior situations. The dazzling red and pink variegations maintain their color all year round. There are so many color combinations available that it is hard to choose just one color.
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