By Wayne Handlos, Ph.D.

1.   2. 3. 4.  5.  6.

1.‘Beauty of Oxton’                                             4. Gardener’s Chronicle 1841                

2.‘Queen Victoria’                                               5. Sweet, vol. 1, pl. 83 – P. macranthum

3. Jakob von Reider – Annalen Vol. 8 (1832)     6. Trattinnick, vol. 1, pl. 18 – P. hesperidium

       ^  Undescribed cultivar of proto-regal.   

William Bull introduced the name "Regal" in his 1876 catalogue of New Beautiful and Rare Plants.

"The name is applied to that magnificent group of Pelargoniums, the flowers of which are of large size,

 very rich and showy, and although they are not really double, yet from their fullness of form and extra

number of petals, they have the appearance of being so." He started with seven cultivars: ‘Beauty of Oxton',

 ‘Captain Raikes’, ‘Elegantissimum’, ‘La Ville de Caen’, ‘Madame Evrard’, ‘Prince of Pelargoniums’,

‘Queen Victoria’. He still recognized the categories of Spotted, Show, Fancy and Hybrid Perpetuals.

Continuing the royal/regal theme, in 1877 he introduced ‘Prince of Wales’, ‘Princess of Wales’; in 1879

the list included ‘Dr. Masters’, ‘Duchess of Bedford’ and ‘Prince of Teck’; 1892 found ‘Duchess of Fife’,

‘Duchess of Teck’, ‘Emperor of Russia’, ‘Empress Fredrick’, ‘Empress of India’, ‘Prince George’, ‘Prince

Henry’, ‘Princess Alexandra’, ‘Princess Beatrice’, ‘Princess Maud’ and ‘Princess Victoria’ added.

To my eye, it does not require a great leap of imagination to see the precursors of the regals, angels

and unique groups of Pelargoniums among the plants/flowers illustrated by Sweet, Trattinnick and

von Reider. Unfortunately, these writers only occasionally included measurements of the flowers and

petals – so we do not know exactly what sizes the flowers of these early hybrids were. However, when

measurements were given for flower size, the larger flowers were up to three inches across – a respectable

size even today. Individual petals were up to two inches long. Considerable variation in height was recorded

with plants as short as six inches or as tall as five feet! Branching habit was noted sometimes and varied

 from little branched (lanky) to

densely branched. The raw material for today’s cultivars was largely available in the early 19th century.

[Examples: Regals: vonReider – ‘Prince Charles’, ‘Koenig Salomon’; Sweet – P. multinerve, P.

opulifolium; Trattinnick – P. macranthum, P. actinogramma. Angels: vonReider – ‘la Bourette’,

‘Belle Henriette’; Sweet – P. obtusilobum, P. pustulosum; Trattinnick – P. hesperidium, P. coriaceum.

Size examples: Sweet – P. macranthum, petals 2" long, flower 3" x 2"; von Reider – P. macranthum,

 flowers 3 Zoll lang (3" long); Trattinnick – P. fastuosum, petals 1½ Z (inch long) x 1 Z wide]

Plant breeders through the ages have had some common goals. Bigger is better. Different is better.

More colors are desirable. So looking at the colored illustrations, we can see all of these trends in

the early 19th century literature. As time went on some breeders/growers became more discerning

and started to formulate specific traits or conditions which breeders should strive to attain. Broader/

wider petals became an almost universal goal.

In 1841 in the Gardener’s Chronicle, the following instructions were given for judging the "perfect"

pelargonium. "The flower should be large, and composed of broad … petals, free from crumple or

unevenness, … smooth on their edges, … round … Its colour, whether rich or delicate, should

possess great clearness; the under petals must be free from veins, and the upper petals should have

a large dark spot running to the bottom … as destitute as possible of a small white feather. …

Finally, it is essential that the leaves should be large, delicate, and … have a … truss … of several

flowers …"

In 1848, Edward Beck, one of the primary proponents of desirable traits, wrote frequently and often

exhibited the plants he was producing. His thoughts are abbreviated here: "… breadth of petals, …

roundness and fullness of flower … habit should be moderately dwarf, with stout foliage, and short

stalks to the leaves, so as to form a compact bushy plant … truss of at least four flowers … The

flower should be of good size, say two inches in diameter, composed of five petals, two upper and

three lower ones, and these should form a circle. They should be quite free from curl or crumple,

stout and velvety in texture, with perfectly smooth edges … with no indentations; … The ground-

colour of the petals should be clear and pure. The whole flower should be free from veins …

The spot should be very decided at the base, extending upwards, and terminating, in a margined

flower, with … a distinct edging. … When a flower has a white eye, it should be dense and pure;

 … Prolific bloom is indispensable, and novelty of colour is of much more importance than

accuracy of form; large flowers also are in more request than the medium size" (Florist, 1848, p. 302).

Regional preferences also became apparent and the English pelargonistes went in different

directions from the French and German growers. So while the English breeders sought rounder,

flatter flowers with pure, clear colors, the continental growers liked more spots and vein patterns

on their flowers. Then followed decades of illustrations of flat, circular/round flowers and eventually

in the 20th century, the more fanciful, frilly, ruffled flowers came into vogue.

Various sub-categories were devised for the nascent regal plants and florist, show, decorative and

fancy categories were recognized. Wilkinson (The Passion for Pelargoniums) chronicles some of

these trends in her book. Several modern authors have commented on the contributions of the German

hybridizers in the early 20th century and the creation of plants with larger, more colorful flowers on more

compact, branching plants. In truth, the initial strides had occurred 75 years earlier. The job was to refine

 and elaborate on what was there.

Today other criteria are important to the commercial growers so compact, highly branched, disease

and insect resistant plants with a long blooming season have taken precedence over larger flowers

with distinctive and unique colors and floral patterns on plants with landscape potential. The categories

of the 19th century have given way to the plants available commercially today – with "trending" colors

and long-lasting flowers. The role of the collectors has declined and the role of the commercial

breeders and growers and their requirements rule the geranium world today. With the decline of

local, regional, private growers and the ascendance of "big box" marketers, the geranium world

has changed dramatically.





© 2016, Central Coast Geranium Society (CCGS )