Maternally inherited chlorophyll deficiency, or albinism, is a standard marker in plant cytoplasmic genetics. Its stability is consistent with mutations in the plastid genome. Nuclear mutations inducing plastid ribosome deficiency (PRD) also lead to maternally inherited chlorophyll deficiency. Here we report that stable chlorophyll deficiency can be efficiently generated in cruciferous plants without mutagenesis by a short exposure to spectinomycin, an inhibitor of plastid protein synthesis. We show that the chlorophyll-deficient phenotype results from a deficiency in plastid ribosomes and plastid translation products. Loss of plastid ribosomes is irreversible. The data suggest that mutations are not essential for generating inheritable PRD. It allows the formulation of a more general model in which stable PRD can be induced by a variety of factors that prevent the formation of functional plastid ribosomes. A non-mutational mechanisms for generating inheritable chlorophyll deficiency has implications for the origin and inheritance of green-white variegation in nature.