ANGEL RULES – ANGELS RULE by Wayne Handlos
1. P. obtusilobum 2. P. lineatum 3. P. coriaceum 4.‘Catford Belle’* 5. P. dumosum
*Reiners in Geraniaceae.com)
6.‘Arcturus’ 7. P. tricuspidatum 8. P. trifidum 9. Madame Layal’ 10. ‘Baby Snooks’
11. Neubert’s (1858) 12.‘Black Knight’ 13.P. grandiflorum 14. 'Angel Star’ 15. ‘Chrissie Felix’
16. Eskay Saar’ 17. ‘Golden Angel’ 18. Moon Maiden’ 19. ‘The Barle’
Any story of thePelargoniums is frequently a muddle. But it often boils down to the fact that humans set
out rules for the plants. For example, dwarf zonals cannot be any taller than eight inches. Miniatures must
be no more than five inches tall. It has been noted by some that Uniques must have flowers which are red.
Or that Angels must have P. crispum in their ancestry. Scented leaf geraniums are in the Sections Pelargonium
and Reniformia. When plants of species are exhibited they may have seed pods but hybrid cultivars may not be
shown with seed pods.
Rules, rules, rules. While these rules may seem useful for shows and exhibition, as my college botany
professor repeated year after year: "The plants don’t know the rules." On a certain level, this is true.
We humans have made rules for our own convenience, but the plants respond to the dictates of their
DNA and the influences of the environment – temperature, water, available nutrients, wave-lengths of
light, day length. The plants do not know their names – neither popular nor scientific. They are unaware
of what section or category they are in.
The potential height ofPelargonium plants is under genetic control. The literature of Trattinnick and von Reider
gives precise measurement for the height of many of the species and cultivars that they described. In general
terms, plants may be short, medium or tall – and these variations in heights have been with us since the beginning.
The segregation and combination of alleles for height will determine how tall a plant is likely to grow or how short
it will remain. Any connection to the rules of dwarfs and miniatures is purely coincidental. Flower petals will be
red only if the genes for red pigments are present in the genetic makeup of the plant. Those genes might be
introduced from another individual through a breeding program. Just as hair color is heritable in humans – a red-
headed child is not usually a mutant – the appropriate genetic alleles were brought together by chance (or possibly
romance). The recessive nature of the alleles had kept red hair hidden from expression: the potential was there all along.
All that being said, the history of Angels goes something like this. In the early 1800s, short-statured, small but colorfully
flowered Pelargonium were being grown by several nurserymen. They included such plants as P. obtusilobum,
P. lineatum and P. coriaceum. In the following decades, however, the prevailing fashion was for larger flowers
and plants for bedding displays. So these diminutive plants fell out of favor. The next flourish of small plants occurred
in the early years of the 20th century with the crossing of P. crispum (with small, lemon-scented leaves) with regals.
This work was done by Arthur Langley Smith and he created a group of plants now named after him (Langley Smith
Hybrids) but which we consider to be Angels today. Several of those cultivars are still available and include ‘Catford Belle’,
‘Mrs. Dumbrell’, ‘Spring Park’, ‘Rose Bengal’, ‘Shirley Ash’, ‘Solferino’. Little further interest in this type of plant
occurred until the last quarter of the 20th century when Ray Bidwell and Jan Taylor began a new wave of breeding in
England. Dereck Clifford named these small plants "Angels" presumably after ‘Angeline’ (or P. dumosum), a plant
that Sweet knew and illustrated. The color range of these plants was restricted to the lavender, white and pink part
of the spectrum. The petals were variously patterned or veined. Further breeding continued and the long desired red
color was introduced into small, Angel-like plants by Jay Kapac at the turn of the 21st century. These red, orange and
apricot-colored flowers are found in such cultivars as ‘Aldebaran’, ‘Antares’, ‘Arcturus’, ‘Bernice Ladroot’, ‘Dark Nebula’,
‘Erin’, ‘Gary’s Nebula’, ‘Maria Garcia’, ‘Milena’ and ‘Orange Angel’.
Breeding programs using different species have led to diminutive plants with different leaf forms – small and crinkled
leaves from P. crispum, rounded leaves presumably from various regal-like plants, tri- to penta-lobed or divided
leaves from (P. trifidum ?). The little used P. tricuspidatum has led to small gray leaves. Rules aside, hybridization
continues as it has from the beginning of the introduction of Pelargonium species into Europe, North America and
Australia and the form of cultivars continues to develop and evolve.
Carol Roller*, Robin Parer*, Faye Brawner* and Anne Wilkinson* have given more detailed versions of the histories
of the Pelargonium group known popularly as the Angels.
Faye Brawner has described the ideal Angel as follows based on ‘Catford Belle’ as a model: thin-stemmed,
bushy, short plants with rounded leaves with a crisped or wavy edge or shallowly lobed; abundant, single flowers,
½ to 1" in diameter with wide petals.
To deal with the natural variation inPelargonium hybrids, other categories have been proposed for things that
are "kinda like" Angels but somewhat different. More rules. "Pansy-face" is a category based on the appearance
of an old cultivar named ‘Madame Layal’. She is a taller, sturdy plant with smallish leaves. The pansy-face implies
a color difference between the upper and lower petals. In pansies, the upper two petals are a plain color while the
three lower petals are blotched, patterned and veined. In Angels generally the upper petals have the more elaborate
patterning – as is true for many of the species of Pelargonium. ‘Madame Layal’ has blotched upper petals with
minimal veining on the lower petals. Other cultivars in this category include ‘Baby Snooks’, ‘Seeley’s Pansy’ and
‘Earliana’. Interestingly in the 1858 volume of Neubert’s Deutsches Magazin für Garten- und Blumenkunde, pansies
were described as "pelargonium-flowered"!
Another category has been proposed for plants which have smaller flowers than usually expected of Regals. These
have been called dwarf, miniature or small-flowered regals. Miniature and dwarf refers to the flower size, not the
stature of the plants. Modern regal breeding has put some emphasis on shorter plants, basically for the convenience
of commercial growers. The Maiden series (originally developed by Oglevee, which company has been merged with
a group now calling themselves "Orange") is a case in point. The small-flowered regals include such cultivars as
‘Royal Ascot’, ‘Black Knight’ and ‘Beromunster’.
As noted earlier Jay Kapac has gotten the genes for red-orange flower color into diminutive plants like Angels. However,
not fitting the parameters described above by Faye Brawner, another category – "species hybrid" – has been proposed
for these plants. More rules and more categories to deal with an every-changing, ever-evolving group of plants.
Angels, pansy-face and mini-regals readily interbreed, probably because they are diploids. Angels and modern
regals don’t interbreed so easily, probably because the angels are diploids and the regals are tetraploids. It would
be helpful if someone did the basic cytological work on these plants to give us some scientific facts to work with.
Pelargonium crispum (n = 11 and 22), P. cucullatum (n = 11), P. fulgidum (n = 11), P. grandiflorum (n = 11)
and P. x tricuspidatum (found in South Africa as a naturally occurring hybrid of P. scabrum, n =11 and P. lanceolatum,
(n = 11) would all be expected to interbreed, which they apparently have done over time to produce the wonderful
array of cultivars which we call Angels today. If P. trifidum (n = 9) is involved in modern Angel breeding, it represents
a cytological anomaly, an erroneous chromosome count or a misidentification. Perhaps P. fruticosum (n = 11) has
been misidentified as P. trifidum, which has not been reported as hybridizing with anything else, whereas
P. fruticosum does hybridize with one of the species named above and its close relatives. The chromosome
numbers reported for the regals, P. x domesticum (2n = 36, 42, 45), indicate that there likely would be incompatibility
problems at the chromosomal level.
A large number of species and early hybrids produced all those plants illustrated by Andrews, Sweet, Trattinnick
and others in the 19th century. The breeding continues and the wonderful array of small, medium and large cultivars
of things like Regals, Angels, Uniques, pansy face, dwarf regals and species-derived hybrids represent the genetic
potential of many different combinations of genes and alleles. The resulting plants blur the lines between the categories
devised by humans in an attempt to show control over nature. The rules of biology, like the rules of genetics, ecology,
chemistry and physics, may be discovered and elucidated by humans but these rules and laws were not passed by
any government, parliament, president, king, queen or dictator. And just as they were not passed or ratified by any
ruling body, these immutable rules cannot be amended or repealed. No amount of denial, politics, rationalizations or
wishful thinking will change the basic rules of nature and the universe.
P.S. to the Angels
The culture of Angels is basically the same as for other cultivated Pelargoniums. Soil should be well-drained and
contain a modest amount of nutrients. Regular fertilization will keep the plants growing and blooming. Some cultivars
may require cool night temperatures to stimulate blooming – 50̊ to 55̊ F is appropriate. Periodic trimming is needed
to keep the plants from becoming too straggly. Grow them in bright sunlight but not under hot desert conditions.
In my experience Angels are among the most sensitive to frost of the cultivated Pelargoniums. Protect them if any
freezing temperatures are expected.
Propagation of Angel cultivars is not as easy as with most other cultivated Pelargoniums. Actively growing stems
about 4-5 inches long should be used. The cut end should be dipped in powdered white willow bark and the cutting
inserted in perlite or perlite/peat moss. Keep moist and out of direct sunlight. Several cuttings should be made at one
time with hopes that at least one will root. It may take several weeks before any roots appear.
Root mealy bugs seem to be the most serious pest of Angels and plants will frequently die once infected. Sanitation is
the best preventive measure. White flies and aphids can be pests. Use good organic soil and fertilizers. Vermicompost
and worm castings may be beneficial additions to the soil.
*Roller: "Angels", GATW, v. 37, n 1, pp. 16-19, 1989; Parer: "More on Angel and Pansy Face Pelargoniums," GATW, v.42, n. 1, pp. 4-11, 1994;
Brawner: Geraniums: The Complete Encylopedia, 2003; Wilkinso The Passion for Pelargoniums, 2007