Mosaic Virus vs Variegation (How to Identify, Treat and Prevent)

Variegation is what makes plants unique. It is usually a pattern of white or other light colors on a leaf where the original plant would be a solid green color and the same shade. Sometimes, variegation can occur in just a few leaves; other times, it can affect the whole plant. 

Mosaic Virus is a cause of variegation, unique coloring, and patterns on the leaf; however, it isn’t a safe way to cause variegation as it can cause deformity and reduced plant growth. There isn’t a safe way to cause variegation except to breed for it. 

Variegation can be done safely in plants without a virus’s danger and harm. The Mosaic Virus should be treated and controlled when it can be, and not be allowed to spread to prevent damage to your plants. However, throughout history, people have tried everything from gene mutations and transfusions to radiation to cause variegation. 

What Causes Mosaic Virus?

The Mosaic Virus is a virus. It is commonly spread to garden vegetables, and each species has its own Mosaic Virus that affects the plant in specific ways. Usually, pests spread the virus; however, it can also be spread by weeds, other infected plants, and infected seeds. 

Why Is it Called a Mosaic Virus?

This virus is called a Mosaic Virus due to the unique pattern that the virus leaves on the plant. It is usually a mottled or almost mosaic pattern of damage and discoloration on the leaves. 

Although there are a few different strains of Mosaic Virus, the symptoms and colorations are the same. Usually, the leaves will have a mottled pattern of white, yellow, or light green spots, splotches, or stripes. 

What Does the Mosaic Virus Look Like?

On top of the mosaic pattern that comes with the virus, stunted growth, deformities, and blisters are also common. Certain viruses have slightly different behaviors and symptoms, but these symptoms are common among all different Mosaic Virus types. 

What Plants Does Mosaic Virus Infect?

Mosaic virus
Mosaic Virus mainly infects garden vegetables and popular crops. Each variation has a unique name to describe the crops that it impacts. 

Some examples of Mosaic Viruses and the plants they infect include:

  • Bean Common Mosaic Virus – Beans
  • Bean Yellow Mosaic Virus – Beans
  • Cucumber Mosaic Virus – Cucumber, Melons, Squashes, Tomatoes, Eggplants, Peppers, Potatoes, Spinach, Lettuce
  • Tobacco Mosaic Virus – Tobacco, Tomatoes, Peppers, Petunias 
  • Blueberry Mosaic Virus- Blueberry
  • Apple Mosaic Virus – Apple

Out of these common ones, the Tobacco Mosaic Virus is probably the most discussed and talked about, as tobacco is very susceptible to this virus. Although tobacco was the first species this virus infected, there are over 350 species susceptible to this virus. 

The Tobacco Mosaic Virus is easily transferred too. Besides the normal ways, such as pests, new plants can be infected by farmers touching the infected plant and then a different plant. It can even attach to clothes, infecting every plant it brushes against. 

How Do You Avoid or Treat Tobacco Mosaic Virus?

Unfortunately, the Tobacco Mosaic Virus shares a lot of symptoms and signs with nutrient deficiency. For this reason, many people tend to assume that it is a virus when it might just be a lack of nutrients. 

You have to ensure that what is wrong is due to the Tobacco Mosaic Virus and not a lack of nutrients or other problems with the habitat. 

Overall, it is hard to avoid the Tobacco Mosaic Virus completely. Since it can be spread by people, pests, wind, and infected seeds, it can be hard to contain once it infects some of your plants.

There are some steps you can take to help avoid spreading the virus and making the problem worse. The first is always to ensure you trim any injured or infected leaves as soon as they appear. This reduces the virus from spreading. 

Also, never compost the leaves that are infected. Instead, you will want to burn them right away. Even in the compost, the plants can infect other plants. 

Finally, keep an eye on your plants. Regularly inspect them for any signs of damage or injury. That way, if your plants do get this virus, you will be able to react quickly. 

How Do I Know If My Plant Has Dasheen Mosaic Virus?

Dasheen Mosaic Virus is a virus that mainly infects taro. It was initially found in Florida, USA, but now is widely found in Egypt, India, Japan, the Caribbean, and South America. While it primarily affects taro, this virus can impact other tubers. 

While the Dasheen Mosaic Virus is not lethal, it can severely reduce the yield of taro tubers and slow plant growth. 

Like other Mosaic Virus types, you can tell if you have a Dasheen Mosaic Virus based on a unique mosaic or mottled patterns on the leaves. 

This disease is most often spread by aphids and sap from an infected plant coming into contact with a healthy plant. 

It is important to note that even if one plant leaf doesn’t show signs of infection, the whole plant can be infected, including leaves without symptoms. Sometimes, the infection will be dormant and invisible on new growth or specific plants. 

Does A Virus Cause Variegation On Plants?

Some variegation is caused by a virus, while others are part of genetics. Sometimes, viruses are directly injected into the plant, especially with flowers, to provide and enhance unique colors and patterns. Sometimes, these patterns become a part of the genetics at some point, and the plant is then virus-free

Other times, it is due to a unique genetic trait that affects pigmentation and chlorophyll production. As these qualities are bred into the plant, the variegation becomes more stable and may even lead to a new species or subspecies of the plant. 

Mosaic Viruses are just one type of virus that can cause variegation. However, since it can also damage the leaves and cause deformations, it is not used very often, nor is it healthy for the plant. 

Why Do Plants Become Variegated?

Variegated leaf
Generally, variegation is either caused by a virus or by a genetic mutation. This is why variegations often start unstable. With time and proper breeding, that variegation becomes more stable and can even be considered its own hybrid or subspecies. 

How Do You Induce Variegation?

Variegation most frequently occurs when there is an error in the genetics that causes plants to not get colors on their leaves the way they should. While this can be bred to make it occur more, some plants are highly susceptible to this genetic variation. 

However, you can sometimes induce variegation. There aren’t many safe ways to do so without being in a situation where you can mess with the genetics of the plant. 

Some people have introduced plants to radiation, while others have injected their plants with a virus to increase the chances of variegation. Sometimes, you can induce variegation by breeding two variegated plants in hopes of keeping the variegation.

Some people even say that plants can be sprayed with ethanol, which can cause variegation, but it seems to only work with some plants. 

However, in general, there isn’t anything you can do to increase or add variegation to a plant when there isn’t any there. Most of the time, variegations are created by accident or even discovered, more than specifically bred. 

There are three main ways to get variegation in a plant. These are mutation, viral infection, and natural genetics. So if you wanted to cause variegation in a plant, you would have to focus on targeting one of these. 

There are a few ways that plant breeders induce variegation: 

  • Transposing of genes
  • Chemical mutagens like ethyl methanesulfonate
  • Radiation
  • Using tissue from variegated plants


Mosaic Virus is a cause of variegation, unique coloring, and patterns on the leaf; however, it isn’t a safe way to cause variegation as it can cause deformity and reduced plant growth. 

While technically, a Mosaic Virus can cause variegation, it can also damage or even kill the plant. It also poses a risk of infecting every other plant around it. More natural ways of inducing variegation in plants like spraying ethanol, don’t cause damage or harm. 

Genetic factors or mutations most often cause variegation. While viruses can cause variegation, and this has worked for some plants, the variegation is usually unstable and may not stay if the plant is cured.