UNIQUE PELARGONIUMS – MORE THOUGHTS
Wayne Handlos1. 2. 3. 4.
1.‘California Brilliant’ 2.‘Shrubland Rose’ 3.P. fulgidum flower 4.P. fulgidum leaf
5.Sweet’sP. concolor 6.Trattinnick’s P. dubium 7. P. ignescens 8. P. rubescens
9.‘Madame Nonin’ 10.‘Apricot Fool’ 11.‘Apricot Glacé’ 12.‘Clorinda’ 13‘Golden Clorinda'
14. ‘Hula’ 15. ‘Polka’ 16.‘VooDoo’ 17.‘Red Capri’
18.‘Ashby’ 19.‘Copthorne’ 20.‘Roller’s Satinque’
In my life BC (before California), I knew and had grown zonal, regal, ivy and scented-leaf geraniums
/Pelargoniums. But after moving to the Central Coast of California I discovered Unique geraniums.
This was a new category of geraniums to me – outdoor perennials, somewhat woody stems, with
terminal clusters containing numerous, brightly colored flowers of modest size, with dark green, deeply
lobed leaves, often scented and having harsh hairy surfaces. One particularly bright colored one grew
in a bed across from the local post office. I rooted a cutting and soon learned it was named ‘Brilliant’
or ‘California Brilliant’. I began acquiring more Uniques: ‘Clorinda’, ‘Paton’s Unique’ (or ‘Apricot’),
‘Shrubland Rose’, ‘Sweet Miriam’ – then followed ‘Polka’ ‘Hula’ and ‘VooDoo’ – and on and on.
I found that this was a group particularly suited to the Mediterranean climate of California and I thought
they made nice landscape plants. After a devastating freeze one winter, I thought I had lost them all. But
as the temperatures rose, green shoots emerged at the base and we were back in business.
The history of the Uniques indicates beginnings lost in time. How difficult could it be to get new ones?
You could just collect seeds of existing cultivars and new varieties were sure to result. Wrong! The plants
mostly turned out to be sterile. However, writers seemed in agreement that the Uniques’ ancestry began
with the straggly, red-flowered species – P. fulgidum. In my mind the jagged, smelly leaves came from
various scented-leaved species. Just make some crosses. Wrong, again! A look at chromosome numbers
seemed to indicate that the Uniques were probably sterile triploids. Pelargonium fulgidum is a diploid
with 2n = 22 and likely scented species are tetraploids with 2n = 44. A cross would yield an offspring
with the intermediate number of chromosomes of 2n = 33 – a triploid – which is usually sterile. How
much more simple could it be?
The following story develops/emerges.
From the earliest days of the introduction of various species ofPelargonium into Europe and England
from South Africa, hybrids were produced. These were both planned crosses and accidental hybrids
(most probably through the assistance of honey bees). In 1686, Hermann knew the following species:
cucullatum, capitatum, acetosum, auritum, myrrhidium, pinnatum, rapaceum, triste, lobatum,
gibbosum. By 1700, the ancestors of regals, zonals, ivies and scented geraniums were in Holland. By
1732, pivotal species included P. odoratissimum, P. inquinans, P. vitifolium, P. carnosum, P. fulgidum
and P. papilionaceum. By 1787, Cavanilles illustrated 70 Pelargoniums.
At the beginning of the 19th century, fine engravings and hand-colored prints of many different plants were
produced by subscription. Included amongst those illustrating the Geraniaceae were works by Henry
Andrews, Robert Sweet and Leopold Trattinnick. Many variant seedlings (planned and accidental) were
illustrated and those images are available free, on-line today. The original works now cost in the thousands
of dollars. The parentage of controlled, planned crosses were listed when known – or conjectures made on
the basis of apparent similarities between new variants and existing named plants. Nascent forms of the
major categories we know today can be seen amongst these illustrations and include angels and regals,
Uniques, zonals, ivies and scented leaf types. The principal consideration in selecting the plants for illustration
was "pretty flowers" so there were more selections from the first three groups than from the last three. At
that early date, the color range of zonals, nosegays (a type of zonal) and ivies was very limited. Even today
most of the scented-leaf plants have rather small, uniform flowers – with lavenderish, pinkish or whitish petals.
The commonly recognized categories of Pelargonium evolved over time but the names we use today did not
come into use until relatively recently – the late 1800’s to the mid-1900’s. However, careful study of these
early images and texts reveal plants belonging in all six of the categories we recognize today. No precise
pedigree is given for the older Uniques as we know them today. Many of them have reddish flowers and the
only red-flowered species that were available in the 18th century were P. fulgidum and P. inquinans. The
latter only hybridizes with other members of the Ciconium section (the section containing the ivies and zonal
geraniums) so is not part of this story. It is widely believed then that P. fulgidum is one of the ancestors of
the Uniques. Controlled crosses show that P. fulgidum will produce viable offspring with at least 10 other
species.* Where the parents of the ur-Uniques are known, they include P. fulgidum, P. ignescens and
P. rubescens. The last two were early, red-flowered cultivars (not true species despite the names). The
precise parentage of these two plants is not known however. The other suspected, parental species listed
by Sweet et al. include P. quercifolium (n = 22), P. capitatum (n = 33), P. radula (P. radens, n = 44),
P. glutinosum (n = 22), P. graveolens (n = 44) and P. cucullatum (n = 11).
However, modern crosses betweenP. fulgidum and these potential partners, have not been successful.
Uniques are usually sterile and rarely produce viable seeds. This could be explained by a variety of factors.
Studies have shown that a number of intrinsic (presumably genetic) incompatibility factors exist amongst
the species ofPelargonium. Another simple explanation is the likelihood that Uniques are sterile triploids
(11 + 22 = 33) resulting from crosses of P. fulgidum with P. quercifolium or P. glutinosum. Other
possibilities include a pentaploid offspring (11 + 44 = 55) from crossing P. fulgidum with P. radens
or P. graveolens. As noted earlier, where these crosses have been attempted they have been unsuccessful.
Unfortunately, no chromosome counts have been done of the Uniques to help us understand their ancestry.
So, what do we know of the parentage of the more modern Uniques. The largely sterile ‘Paton’s Unique’
or ‘Apricot’ has spawned a veritable gaggle of mutant derivatives without the benefit of sex including
‘Madame Nonin’ with ruffled petals producing the appearance of a double flower; ‘Light Rose Paton’s
Unique’ (in Europe) aka ‘Mexican Sage’ ( in the U. S), ‘Apricot Fool’, ‘Apricot Glacé’, ‘BirdBush Pink
and Perky’, and ‘Phyllis’ with a variegated leaf. ‘Sonoma Lavender’ is a sport of ‘California Brilliant’;
‘Red Capri’ is a sport from ‘Capri’ while ‘Orchid Clorinda’, ‘Golden Clorinda’ and ‘Silver Clorinda’
are all sports of ‘Clorinda’.
‘Bolero’, ‘Carefree’, ‘Hula’, ‘Mystery’, ‘Polka’ and ‘VooDoo’ were produced by Frances Hartsook in
Baja California by crossing ‘Old Scarlet Unique’ with regals in an attempt to get cultivars with an extended
blooming season. Her ‘Pink Champagne’ resulted from a cross of P. nervosum (‘Lime’) with the regal
‘Josephine’. Cliff Blackman in Australia produced ‘Lara Ballerina’, ‘Lara Ballet’, ‘Lara Jester’ and
‘Lara Starshine’ with crosses between P. x domesticum (regals) and P. quercifolium.
‘Ashby’ (‘Aldwyck’ x P. quercifolium), ‘Brunswick’, ‘Copthorne’ (‘Aztec’ x P. quercifolium),
‘Fairlop’ (‘Fruhling – a Swedish regal x P. quercifolium), ‘Hemley’, ‘Orsett’ and ‘Welling’ come from
hybrids produced by Edna Popperwell in England.
‘Roller’s Satinique’ was grown by Carol Roller with a seed from ‘VooDoo’ with an unkown pollen parent
(maybe P. graveolens or P. radens).
‘Sweet Memory’ and ‘Sweet Success’ named in honor of Robert Sweet, were produced by Ian Gillam by
crossing regals with a form of ‘Old Scarlet Unique’.
So we are left with suspicions and speculations, but no definitive evidence of the parentage and origins
of the older Uniques. Where we have evidence the modern Uniques are either mutants/sports of existing
cultivars or are hybrids involving ‘Old Scarlet Unique’, various regals and P. quercifolium. Until the
definitive DNA analyses (a la 23 & Me or Ancestry) are done, the mysteries will remain.
Alas, my goal of explaining the origin of the Uniques has fallen before the scientific evidence and the story
ends where it began. In most cases we don’t know.
*Successful crosses involving P. fulgidum (Reported in The Pelargonium Breeder II.)
P. fulgidum x P. magenteum, P. grandiflorum, P. pulchellum, P. auritum, P. oblongatum,
P. ochroleucum, P. pinnatum, P. rapaceum; P. englerianum x P. fulgidum; P. lobatum x P. fulgidum;
P. grandiflorum x P. fulgidum.
ADDITIONS TO THE LIST OF UNIQUES (from last month’s newsletter)
Apricot [= Paton’s Unique]
Aurore’s Pink Unique (or Pink Aurore’s Unique)
Aurore’s Unique (or Unique Aurore)
BirdBush Pink and Perky
Pink Claret Unique
Sweet Miriam [= Sweet Mimosa]
Variegated White Unique
Jay Kapac in the last few years has introduced the following cultivars as Uniques: ‘Amelita’, ‘Aprille’,
‘Claire’, ‘Cynthia’, ‘Flore de Fuego’, ‘Queen of Hearts’ and ‘Queen of Orange’.