Wayne Handlos

1.  2.  3.  4.  5.

6.  7. 8.  9.  10.

11.  12.  13.  14.  15.

16.  17.  18.  19.  20.

1.‘Frosty’ flower  2.‘Frosty’ leaf  3.‘Golden Kleiner Liebling’ flower 4.’Golden Kleiner Liebling’ leaf

5.Lilliputs from Saxony Gard.Chron.1868, v.23  6.‘Tom Pouce’ (‘Tom Thumb’) Neubert 1868

7.‘Princesse Stéphanie’ Illust.Gart. v 25, 1881  8.‘Princesse Clémentine’ WienerGart.Z.v.1 1886

9.Cy’s ‘X Candy’ flower  10.Cy’s ‘X Candy’ red leaf  11. ‘Cy’s Candy’ flower  12.‘Cy’s Candy’ leaf

13.‘Irvine’ flower  14.‘Irvine’ with dark leaf  15.‘Le Caméléon’ Rev.Hort.Belge v.12, 1886

16.Micro-mini seedling 3 yrs. old, 3.5 in. tall  17.‘Icing Sugar’ mini-ivy flower

18.‘Icing Sugar’ mini ivy leaf  19.‘Evka’ dwarf ivy flower   20.‘Evka’ dwarf ivy leaf

A well-grown, colorfully flowering plant of a dwarf zonal Pelargonium can only be described as  

"adorable". However, we (in the U.S.) never (well, almost never) see them for sale in the nurseries

(or even on-line). They are ideal for a well-lit windowsill. Could they be harder to grow than an

African violet?

The categories of dwarf and miniature zonal pelargoniums are defined in show schedules with

exhibition rules. A dwarf must be at least five inches (13 cm) tall and not exceed eight inches (20 cm)

in height measured from the soil level to the topmost leaf and should be in a pot no larger than 4 ½ inches

(11 cm) in diameter. On the other hand a miniature should not exceed five inches (13 cm) tall measured

from the soil level in a pot no larger than 3 ½ inches (9 cm) diameter. In more recent years a third category

of micro-miniature plants has been recognized. These plants should be no more than 7.5 cm tall (2.95

 inches) in a 6 cm pot. Preferably the leaves and flowers are in proportion to the size of the plant and pot.

As noted in the article on angels, such categories bear no objective reality in the natural world. These are

purely (hu)man-made categories and as noted by Helen van Pelt Wilson (Joy of Geraniums, p. 115)

 "classification by inches just won’t work." Even Faye Brawner (Geraniums – The Complete Encyclopedia,

p. 26) wrote: "In nature there is always a variance in size within the same plant group." While the early literature

on Pelargoniums from the early 1800s rarely included precise height measurements, our old friend,

Jakob von Reider (1829) included the following measurements: P. zonale (as described by von Reider) -

5-6 Schuh high (a Schuh/shoe is between 11 and 12 inches); P. zonale (as described by Dietrich) -

3-4 Schuh tall; another cultivar called P. zonale anglicum grew 2-3 Schuh tall. Dietrich (1820)

listed varietiesas of "niedrigen Wuchs" (low growth).

Under P. inquinans von Reider included P. inquinans Bentinkianum at 3-4 Schuh high and

another variety named P. inquinans fulgens humilis that grew 2-3 Schuh tall.

Henry Andrews (1805) named a plant Geranium zonale minimum which was described in

1837 by George Don as the "stem is hardly a foot high" (p. 733). (Andrews did not approve

of the name Pelargonium and actively discouraged its use, leading, in part, to today’s struggle

over the names Geranium vs. Pelargonium).

The Henderson firm in England in 1861 advertised Pelargonium ‘Pink Tom Thumb’ with a

Lilliput habit, P. Hendersoni nana as the best white zonale and a Minimum nosegay with

Lilliput growth. A Mr. Turner entered a plant named ‘Lilliput’ in a trial reported in the

Proceedings of the Royal Horticultural Society (1861), p. 441. ‘Lilliput’ was described

as very dwarf, leaves small, flowers bright scarlet. In that report there were 31 other plants

described as dwarf out of a total of 150 cultivars in the trials. None of the dwarfs were thought

to be suitable for outdoor bedding plants. In 1868, E.J. Henderson and Son reported on Lilliputian

zonals from Saxony and included a woodcut showing the habit of the plants (Gardeners’ Chronicle,

18 April, p. 405).

By 1881, the Belgian Ed. Pynaert introduced a Lilliput variety named ‘Princesse Stéphanie’ followed

by 10 additional cultivars (including ‘Princesse Clémentine’ and ‘Le Caméléon’) in this dwarf

category which was defined as 12-18 cm tall, with large double and semi-double flowers

(Dauthenay, 1897). The French breeder Bruant introduced the dwarf ‘Philémon’ in 1888 and his

‘Pygmée’ was described as 15-20 cm tall - well within the dwarf category (Dauthenay, 1897).

So, it is clear that small statured zonal Pelargoniums have been with us for at least 150 years –

 but why are they not more popular and in greater demand? The answer seems to be in their cultural

requirements. Most grow slowly but then so do many cacti and succulents and they are very popular now.

Helen van Pelt Wilson (Joy of Geraniums) included the following comments about dwarfs and

miniatures: "somewhat intolerant of mismanagement" (p. 112) and they "need constant attention"

(p. 118). Faye Brawner noted that some just up and die without notice – apparently carrying a

"suicide wish" (p. 30).

Should you even try to grow one (or more) dwarfs? The cultural requirements are basically the

same as for other zonals: well-drained soil, no standing water in the pot or saucer, reasonable

fertility, strong but not intense, hot sunlight. The major pests are likely to be mealy bugs because

of the dense, closely packed foliage.

I would say the critical factor for success will be watering – in small pots with little soil, excessive

drying of the soil can easily occur if one is not vigilant. The small plant with tiny leaves, small stems

and a minimal root system has limited reserves; the small pot with a small soil volume does not

provide much of a reservoir either. So, a fine balance must be struck between too much water

(soggy soil which will encourage rot) and too little water (dry soil and dead roots). Other house

plants are unforgiving of drought – particularly ivies and ferns; but we still grow them.

Direct, hot sunlight can burn the thin, delicate leaves especially if water is in short supply. On the

positive side, the minis are generally known for their floriferousness. Because of their small size

and slow growth most are not suited for growing outdoors or in the ground. They are best grown

as pot plants, usually indoors or in a very sheltered place outdoors.

They are suitable to grow under fluorescent lights because of their small size.

While the dwarfs and miniatures are not as hardy as the standard size geranium plants, they are no

more difficult to grow than many other house plants. So give them a try. You might be pleasantly


Directed breeding of dwarf plants began in earnest about 1950 and continues to the present. There

is now a full range of colors in the flowers, single, double and semi-double flowers, variegated leaves

of all types (bicolors, tricolors and butterfly patterns), as well as miniature forms in stellars. There is

even a dwarf seed-grown strain called ‘Nano’ with heights when grown in pots of 10-15 cm (4-6").

They come in a selection of nine flower colors. In the ground the plants might reach a height of 20-25

cm (8-10 inches) just above the regulation dwarf size.

Many of the dwarf plants have dark green, purplish or black leaves. Some of the cultivars from the late

1800’s had these dark colored leaves and it is believed that this contribution continues into some of the

cultivars of today. Dauthenay (1897) indicated that such plants have been in cultivation since 1773

("á feuilles de mauve" = purple leaves; described in Le Bon Jardinier and also found in the 1797 edition

of that periodical).

It is clear that zonal pelargoniums exhibit a continuous range in height from a few centimeters (2-3 inches)

to 2 meters (6 feet) tall. Height is influenced by environmental and cultural factors (soil, temperature, light

intensity, soil fertility, water supply) in addition to genetic factors. Tilney-Bassett has reported on three studies

of the genetic control of height.

Nugent and Snyder (1967, Proceedings American Society Horticultural Science 91: 680-690) reported

that a dwarf plant which was self-pollinated produced offspring in three classes – tall, medium and dwarf

with resulting ratios of 9 dwarf : 6 medium : 1 tall plant.

From these results they concluded that height was controlled by two genes which they designated as

A-B-. Two dominant alleles, A-B- gave dwarf plants; one dominant gene, A-bb or aaB- gave plants

of medium height while tall plants were produced by the double recessive aabb.

Henault and Craig (1970, Journal of Genetics 61:75-78) crossed two lines of true breeding tall plants

with two lines of true breeding, dwarf plants. All the offspring (F1) were semi-dwarf. When the F1

plants were self-pollinated, the offspring (F2) showed a ratio of 1 tall : 2 semi-dwarf : 1 dwarf. Their

 results were explained as a single gene with incomplete dominance. They designated the dwarf as

DwDw, semi-dwarf as Dwdw and the tall as dwdw.

Murgatroyd (1970, University of Wales Swansea B.Sc. project) crossed two different cultivars

‘Alde’ and ‘Snowstorm’ and got a mixture of dwarf and tall offspring. In the second generation he

got continuous variation in height from a 2 cm tall micro-miniature to a 17 cm tall plant. He also

found that some plants had many side shoots while others had none. The branching plants tended

to be shorter than their unbranched siblings but the two traits did not seem to be highly correlated.

His results did not fit the single gene hypothesis of Henault and Craig but was more complicated

than the results reported by Nugent and Snyder. The apparently consistent results among the three

studies are that the alleles for dwarf are dominant and the alleles for tall plants are recessive.

F. Brawner (Geraniums – The Complete Encyclopedia) and H. Key (1001 Pelargoniums, 2000)

both illustrate many attractive dwarf and miniature plants and both books are readily available either

new or on the used book market. No cultivars are recommended here as there is no commercial

source for these plants in the United States. Fibrex ( and Pelargonium

da Collezione ( ) are two websites with many

pictures of dwarf and miniature Pelargoniums.

N.B. The plant known as ‘Kleiner Liebling’ is a small zonal Pelargonium which is unusual because

it is a haploid plant. It has only one set of chromosomes unlike most higher plants and animals which

 have at least two sets of chromosomes and are called diploids. In Europe this plant and its variants

were renamed ‘Petit Pierre’. Because there is only one set of chromosomes any mutation is unlikely

to be covered by a normal allele in the other set of chromosomes. As a result there are several

cultivars of ‘Kleiner Liebling’ including ‘Frosty’ with a narrow white margin on the leaves,

‘Variegated Kleiner Liebling’ with a wider white marking on the leaves than ‘Frosty’, ‘Golden

Kleiner Liebling’ with yellowish leaves, ‘Sunspot’ with a golden butterfly marking on the leaf,

‘Greengold Kleiner Liebling’ with a darker green margin on the leaf and ‘Picotee Kleiner Liebling’

where the flower has a lighter colored margin. Other flower color variants are also known but do not

seem to be on the market. Variants may be expected to appear at any time.



© 2016, Central Coast Geranium Society (CCGS )