Plants in the genus Pelargonium provide us with a wonderful array of flower colors. Other

plants produce an amazing array of scented chemicals to delight our noses. But in addition to

this, a number of plants produce interesting leaves. In show schedules these plants are usually

referred to as “fancy-leaf geraniums.” Personally I have called these plants “variegated

leaved geraniums.” Other authors have proposed calling them “ornamental foliaged pelargoniums.”

       Santa Maria                       Melosilver

   Whatever you call them, it is clear that there are a number of different color patterns

  beyond plain green to be found in the leaves of the various species of Pelargonium.

  The most commonly seen deviation from the all-green leaf is the leaf with a lighter colored

  or white margin. The cells on the edge of the leaf lack green color due to the absence of the

  green pigment called chlorophyll. In the absence of green pigment the cells on the edge of

            Evka                         L’Elegante         the leaf appear white, ivory, cream or yellow in color. Theoretically any leaf can show this  

  pattern of variegation. Over the years a number of zonal geraniums with this green and

  white/yellow pattern have been named. These cultivars include ‘Madame Salleron’, ‘Mrs.

  J.C. Mappin’, ‘Platinum’, ‘Wilhelm Langguth’ (or ‘Caroline Schmidt’), ‘Frank Headley’,

        French   Lace            Mont Blanc’, ‘Mrs. Parker’ and ‘Ben Franklin’ among many others.

Variegated  P. acetosum

The whitish margin is not restricted to the zonal geraniums. Several ivy geraniums have this pattern of variegation and include

such cultivars as ‘Evka’, ‘L’Elegante’, ‘Variegated Gay Baby’, ‘Wood’s Surprise’ (or ‘Sunset Marble’). Several of the other

species of Pelargonium have this same green/white variegated leaf pattern including ‘Variegated P. acetosum’, ‘Lady Plymouth’,

‘Mint Scented Rose’, ‘Frosted’, ‘Atomic Snowflake’ (these four are forms of the rose-scented geraniums), P. crispum types

including ‘Prince Rupert’ (mildly lemon scented), ‘Variegated Prince Rupert’ (or ‘French Lace’) (scentless), ‘Galway Star’ (very lemony).


   There are a few regal geraniums with variegated leaves (and they are very hard to come

   by) but include the following: ‘Golden Coral’, ‘Lady Love Song’, ‘Miss Australia’,

  ‘Peach Princess’, ‘Starfire’, ‘Silver Ann’, ‘Princess Virginia’, ‘Love Song’, ‘Golden Princess’,

  ‘Gilda’ and ‘Cream ‘n Green’ (as listed in the Holt Geraniums catalog).

   A few angel geraniums have bicolored leaves. They include ‘Ainsbury Beauty’, ‘Rita

    Rita Scheen                Golden Angel        Scheen’, ‘Golden Angel’ and ‘Oldbury Duet’.

Among the uniques and other odd Pelargoniums with marginal variegation are ‘Phyllis’

  and ‘Golden Clorinda’. If you look at the examples named above you will see that the width of

  the white/yellow band varies from a fine line to a band of variable width.


        Phyllis                         Golden Clorinda

In a few cultivars the variegation spreads beyond the edge and may be found throughout

 the leaf blade. This is referred to as a mottled leaf or “hit or miss variegation”. It is found

 in some ivy geranium cultivars such as ‘Arctic Frost’; or in ‘Variegated Nutmeg’ or a

 species- derived cultivar like ‘Dappled Oak’. (Some mottling of leaf color may be due to

         Arctic Frost                  viral infections. This normally manifests itself as varying shades of green rather than as                                                     Var. nutmeg

                                   distinct areas of green or white/yellow.)


   Many of the zonal cultivars (as well as many collections of the ancestral P. zonale) have a

   darker colored,  horseshoe or C-shaped band extending in an arc around the leaf blade

   (about midway between the edge of  the leaf and the base). This darker band in the leaf is

    found in a number of other species of Pelargonium  including P. grandiflorum,

 P. zonale           P. grandiflorum        P. mollicomum,  P. alchemilloides, P. mutans and P. elongatum.                                                        P. mutan

                                                      Pelargonium  frutetorum has the dark band somewhat closer to the center of the leaf than

        does P. zonale.    (Several of the cultivars of zonal geraniums (presumably with P. frutetorum in their

        ancestry)  have a dark  area covering a high percentage of the leaf blade as in the Pillar series, the Bullseye

         series  or the Black Velvet series. Some collections of P. peltatum (ivy geranium) and some of

  P. frutetorum                Bullseye             its cultivars have a dark central blotch at the base of the leaf. Among the scented geraniums,

                                                         P. panduriforme, P. pseudoglutinosum and their derived hybrids, a dark brown blotch is found

                                                        at the center and base of the leaf blade. Such cultivars as ‘Village Hill Oak’, ‘Wildwood’ and

      ‘Chocolate Peppermint’ show this  characteristic. Now to complicate the story still further. If you

       superimpose the dark band of some zonal geraniums on a bicolored, variegated, green and

       white/yellow leaf, you will get the very colorful “tricolor” geraniums like ‘Mr. Henry Cox’, ‘Mrs. Pollock’,

       ‘Dolly Varden’ and ‘Lass O’Gowrie’. The dark band is composed of cells containing a reddish pigment

  Wildwood         Chocolate Peppermint       called anthocyanin. This pigment over white cells appears red, over yellowish cells appears orange

      and over green appears brown, bronze, maroon  or blackish. (These colors will vary in intensity in the

      leaf depending on its age, cultural  factors like temperature, exposure to sun, nutrition etc.)  Another

      interesting pattern seen in some variegated leaves is a reversal of the green and white pattern.  In such

      plants as ‘Freak of Nature’ the margin is green but most of the leaf is white. (This reversal pattern can be

Ivy leaf  Lass O’Gowrie  Mr. Henry Cox    found in a number of grasses and the commonly  grown spider plant – Chlorophytum).

       In cultivars like ‘A Happy Thought’ and ‘Pink Happy Thought’, the white area of the leaf is

      confined to a smaller portion at the base of the leaf blade and green is the predominant color.

       Such a pattern is called a “butterfly” leaf pattern. Sometimes the butterfly pattern is a contrast

A Happy Thought      Violet  Lambton        between shades of green as found in ‘Violet Lambton’.


   Some cultivars (especially among the  zonals) have yellow-green or chartreuse colored leaves

   (cf. ‘Persian Queen’) and these are called gold or golden leaved geraniums. If you superimpose

 Persian Queen   Indian Dunes    the red band of the zonal type of geranium you get a golden bicolor like ‘Mrs. Quilter’. Or if you

superimpose the dark blotch of a frutetorum-type plant you get a cultivar like ‘Indian Dunes’ or ‘Occold Shield’.

   Lastly – some Pelargonium leaves (primarily among the ivy geraniums but sometimes in

   zonals) develop a reticulate pattern on the leaf blade. These leaves look like they are

   cover with a net or mesh. If you examine these leaves closely you will find that the white

  network follows the veins in the leaf. This pattern can be found in such cultivars as

       Spotlight Hotline                Crocodile                ‘Spotlight Hotline’, ‘White Mesh’, ‘Crocetta’ and ‘Crocodile’. This pattern is caused by

the presence of a benign virus (vein clearing virus) in the plant. The virus causes the cells over the veins to lack the green color

of normal leaf tissue. The virus can be transmitted from one plant to another by grafting an infected (net veined) stem on to an

uninfected plant. The virus then moves from the infected plant into the uninfected plant. Therefore any green leafed cultivar can

be converted into a variegated, net-veined cultivar without much difficulty. All other characteristics of the plants remain unchanged.

The virus in not inheritable from one generation to another and will not be passed on to any seedlings.


The mechanism of other types of leaf variegation mentioned above is much more complicated and will be explained in another

article at a later date. But let it be noted that many of the variegated leaves have arisen through mutations (or sports) within the

DNA of the plant cells. In some of the variegated plants the arrangement of green and colorless cells is not stable and further

changes may occur. The most common of these is the loss of the white cells and the reversion of the leaf to all-green. The

all-green shoot should be removed as it is more vigorous and will outgrow the variegated part of the plant. A less

common change is the loss of all the green cells and the production of a pure white shoot and/or leaf. Obviously this kind of plant

cannot live on its own and will exist only as long as it is attached to the parent plant.


In Victorian times, the multicolor leaf was considered very desirable and a number of cultivars of these plants were grown.

Some of the cultivars available today date from the 1800’s. These plants are frequently somewhat delicate and harder to

grow than nonvariegated plants. This is due to the fact that they have less chlorophyll and consequently produce less food

than the green plants. Less food means less growth. Secondly, many of these plants are not as sun tolerant as the green forms.

It is usually suggested that they be grown away from hot, direct sun. If they are in direct, hot sunlight, the leaves may

“sunburn” and show some browning of the tissue. Morning sun and afternoon shade are favorable for their best growth.

Despite their (sometimes delicate) nature, these are truly a wonderful addition to the great diversity of an already diverse group of plants.





© 2010, Central Coast Geranium Society (CCGS )