; Leaves Turning Transparent or Translucent: The Causes Explained – Flourishing Plants

Leaves Turning Transparent or Translucent: The Causes Explained


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There are many physical, environmental, and soil-related problems that can cause a plant’s leaf to become translucent, transparent, or even flake. These are all caused by a loss of chlorophyll.

Leaves will turn transparent or translucent when it has lost a significant amount of chlorophyll which gives plants their green appearance. The causes that are attributed to this loss of pigmentation are damaged roots, poor drainage, high alkalinity, nutrient deficiency, and compacted roots. 

In simple terms, a plant loses its color due to distress which can be described as physical or biological. Either way, whenever this happens, the plant is slowly dying. If you don’t intervene, the plant will wilt, lose support, and eventually die. 

But no fear, we have outlined the reasoning behind this and by having a better understanding of what’s causing your leaves to look transparent and how to fix it.

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Why Are My Plant Leaves Turning Transparent?

Scientifically, the green pigment on the leaf (chlorophyll) is responsible for absorbing light which breaks down water in the leaves into Hydrogen and Oxygen. 

Hydrogen undergoes various processes as it combines with Carbon dioxide to form glucose. In this process, simple elements are converted into complex food substances such as proteins, vitamins, and carbohydrates. 

Based on the simple explanation above, we can then conclude that without green color, a plant cannot make its own food, hence it dies. 

Sometimes, it is not about distress at all. Whenever a plant starts to develop new leaves, the old ones dry and fall off. 

What it Means when Leaves become Blotchy, Turn Translucent or Transparent

Transparent spots on plant leaves

Whenever you see a green, fleshy, and robustly growing plant, the indication is that it is healthy. 

If the color starts to turn transparent, translucent or leaves start folding taking a blotchy appearance, it is down to diseases, pests, or lack of crucial nutrients. 

Here is a detailed outline of foliage problems on plants and some quick fixes for you. 

  1. Pests
  2. Mineral Ions
  3. Physical Factors

Pests

Whiteflies

These are white, small moth-like leaves that tend to cluster at the bottom of the leaf. Also, the nymphs are translucent and can be mistaken for the color of the surrounding leaf.

These insects suck on the fluids from the plant causing it to be stunted and decolorized. Whiteflies infestation can be prevented by spraying the plant with insect-killing soap. 

Powdery Mildew

This condition is caused by a disease that manifests itself as a powder that rusts on the leaf edges which causes the leaf to fold up and die. The disease is characterized by young developing leaves. 

The coating blocks leaves from direct sunlight and it is most intense in highly humid areas and where ventilation is poor. 

The white and brown patches on the plant are caused by a fungi attack that thrives in the dampness of the house and a poorly ventilated room. 

To prevent the fungi attack, just ensure you allow sufficient room for the plant to evaporate excess moisture, and create an environment with a breeze to enhance air exchange in the room. 

Without these, the rust forms a rather permanent deposit of sulfur which prevents any growth. 

Aphids

These are sap-sucking pests that commonly attack plants and attach themselves to the leaf undersides. Aphids may be red, green, white, or brown. They leave yellow spots behind followed by leaf wilting and eventual death. 

Aphids also transmit viruses from one plant to another and excrete honeydew which attracts the growth of black sooty mold. These pests cause plant irritation and stunted growth.

However, you can do away with them by spraying potassium salts of fatty acids on them to weaken their protective exoskeleton making them weak, dehydrated, and eventually dying. 

Dying houseplant

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Miracle Grow Potting Mix

Nutrient Deficiency

Nitrogen Deficiency

Nitrogen is responsible for a plant’s vegetative growth. Whenever you see lower leaves on the plant have started becoming translucent, dry up, and die, the culprit is insufficient nitrogen in the soil. 

The reason for such disparities is that when a plant starts experiencing nitrogen deficiency, it redirects the available nitrogen to the newly formed leaves at the expense of the old ones.

Also, if the plant was in the fruit forming phase, all the available nutrients will be channeled to the fruits rather than forming new leaves. 

Nitrogenous fertilizers and amino acid supplements can go a long way in buffing up nitrogen levels in your plant. Amino acids are building blocks of protein which has nitrogen as one of their primary constituents. 

Potassium Deficiency

When a plant is not getting sufficient potassium supply, it assumes a blotchy appearance such that the leaves appear to be burning. 

Leaves usually turn yellow or brown at the tips and run inwards. You will notice green leaf veins while the outer leaf region is burnt. 

This effect appears to be more intense during budding or flowering. Be sure to top your soil with potassium-rich fertilizers. 

Besides, if the soil PH is too high, potassium absorption may be hampered hence not alleviating the situation even when the fertilizer is applied. 

Phosphorus Deficiency

Lack of phosphates in plants may affect them terminally. Usually, you will see a plant with difficulty in growing and starts to turn its color. 

The lower leaves start to turn dark bluish or green and shiny. The affected leaves may then start curling downwards as the condition intensifies. 

Phosphorus is needed in plenty when a plant is budding. You may want to fix this before this period. Use phosphate fertilizers and ensure the temperatures are not too low such that they inhibit phosphorus absorption. 

Physical Factors

These may be categorized as biological as they affect directly the ability of the plant to survive. They include;

Heat Stress

If your plant is in a room where temperatures are kept above or too close to optimum, it may experience heat stress. This phenomenon occurs in plants to conserve water. 

Basically, when a plant is exposed to high temperatures, it loses water through transpiration. As its cellular water evaporates, the cells shrink closing all exposed pores that facilitate the loss. Therefore, the leaves curl, and the plant may also fold as a result. 

Water is essential for support in plants. Without it, especially in fleshy stems (non-woody), the plant loses turgor. To prevent heat stress on plants, ensure you maintain a constant temperature and have ventilation in the room you place the plant. 

Excess Watering

When leaves start exhibiting inward curling from the stem and drooping, then the problem is excess water.

You should allow the plant to absorb just sufficient water such that it doesn’t dilute salts in the sap of the cells. Therefore, allow the water you poured earlier to drain first before adding more. 

See our article on how to correctly mist plants.

Misting Plants

Why are my Plant Leaves Turning Translucent and Flaking?

Your potted plants at home are like pets. For every small change you observe, they are trying to communicate a problem. 

Mostly, plants start turning color and may become translucent, or to some instances, brown. 

The most probable problem with potted plants and common causes for the color change is the lack of sufficient nutrients or diseases. We have looked at the top and common nutrients and diseases in the previous section. 

Here, you will learn that cold, overwatering, bad drainage, and bad soil mix are equally likely to make your plant turn from green to no color at all.  

Flaking and papery leaves are attributed by a dry appearance that shows up on leaf tips and sometimes at the center of the leaves, then progresses to the entire leaf. This often happens during hot, dry weather when moisture evaporates before the plant can absorb it through the roots.

When the leaf is flaked off it leaves a thin translucent membrane behind. That part of the leaf is usually dead and cannot photosynthesize light because the chlorophyll membrane has been removed.

Here we dive into the causal factors –

Too much exposure to cold conditions

The cold air currents constantly moving in your house are known as drafts (cold drafts). These drafts affect those plants that are not accustomed to cold currents. Tropical plants are the most affected. 

Since tropical plants are not adaptable to cold temperatures, they are affected negatively by drafts when placed in a room with these conditions. 

For example, when the Calathea plant is exposed to these temperatures, transparent and translucent spots start to appear on the leaves. Calathea is a tropical plant. 

Therefore, if your plant is tropical, do not expose it to cold drafts. Cold drafts originate from windows. Typically, if you want to save your plant, keep it away from the windows or any other source of cold air currents in your home. 

Overwatering

Succulent plants do keep water for extended periods. Regular watering, and after short stints are not recommended. Such leads to these plants becoming soft, mushy, and with translucent stems and leaves.

Overwatering succulent plants put them on a rotting trajectory. But before they rot, they will exhibit these symptoms of turning translucent yellow and mushy. 

To reverse this process, be quick to reduce the frequency at which you water the plants. Secondly, move the plant to somewhere where it is exposed to direct sunlight, and thirdly, ensure that the water has drained and that the soil is dry before watering again. 

Prune out the damaged leaves and let the rest grow. 

Another precaution to observe is using a pot with holes that enhance drainage and free air circulation to the roots. 

Additionally, leaf scorch, papery leaf, and flaking can also be attributed to too much moisture. This occurs when the soil is so wet and the spaces within the soil are filled with water, that the roots are deprived of oxygen. As the roots smother, the leaves turn dry and papery and the plant eventually dies.

Bacterial or fungal disease

Bacterial or fungal infections on your potted house plant commonly cause the growth of lesions as the tips of leaves to turn yellow or brown. 

Containing these pathogens and saving your plant may be an uphill task since you always run a risk of spreading to other plants. Therefore, the only remedy to a viral and bacterial attack is disposing of the plant by burning or throwing it away. 

We looked at the formation of powdery mildew in the previous discussion. This is a result of a fungal infection which can be addressed by spraying with a powerful fungicide.

Also, it can be mitigated by moderating room humidity. Damp environments with low temperatures are the best thriving conditions for fungi. 

Sometimes, Orchids exhibit small translucent spots on the underside of the leaves. Such marks may be caused by small insects which feed by sucking sap from the plant. 

You can do away with such insects by applying insecticides. Therefore, study the cause of your plant’s changing color before choosing the best remedy for the problem. 

Bad drainage

We have stressed enough earlier the importance of having a well-drained pot for the plant pot. 

A well-drained pot ensures that excess water leaves the pot keeping the soil with sufficient moisture to sustain the plant. Usually, overwatering is contributed to, by having a poorly drained container for the plant. 

Bad soil mix

Different types of soil have unique properties that make them better choices for certain plants. There are plants that cannot do well in sandy soils. 

Others can do well in loamy but badly in clay soils. Before planting your houseplant, notice which type of soil is well suited, then proceed. 

For a better soil mix, we would recommend a mixture of perlite and vermiculite which would give the soil optimal drainage and aeration properties. See our detailed article on how to use these soil amendments here.

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Yellow miracle grow potting mix

Nutritional Deficiency (chlorophyll synthesis)

Etiolated plants do not have chlorophyll. These are plants which after days of insufficient light exposure, turn pale and become thin. Such plants other than light, luck crucial elements such as magnesium and iron which are monumental in the formation of chlorophyll. 

Scientifically, chlorophyll is a product of cyclic tetrapyrrole and phytol. These two compounds are majorly magnesium and iron. One magnesium atom is datively bonded with four pyrrole rings. 

The lack of these primary compounds and other contributing elements will result in a low synthesis of chlorophyll. Citing our introductory statement, chlorophyll is the reason a plant is green. Without it, it is pale and translucent. 

Which plants are mostly affected with plants becoming transparent or translucent?

All green plants are affected. Remember, without chlorophyll, leaves cannot absorb light. Without light, water molecules cannot be broken into hydrogen and oxygen. Without hydrogen, plants cannot make their food. 

In other words, lack of chlorophyll, or to some extent, when plants become translucent, they lose their ability to manufacture food, hence die. They are literally starved to death. 

The Takeaway

Plants, just like animals, are living organisms and require certain conditions to survive. Such conditions are found in the fields and your backyard. 

However, if you took it upon yourself to rare them in the house, then you ought to provide optimal conditions (such as those from where you got the plant) for it to thrive. 

People benefit a lot from housing plants. To ensure that the symbiosis is sustained, let us take care of the plants as we ought to. 

For instance, let us ensure the humidity in the room is moderate, there are no cold currents in the air, the pot is well-drained, the plant receives sufficient light and nutrients, it is watered (just enough), and we watch out for fungal, bacterial, and viral attacks and deal with them timely. 

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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