By Wayne Handlos, Ph.D.

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1. Phlox-eyed zonal   2.Pelargonium inquinans  3.Picotee Pattern -Volunteer seedling

4. Pink white eye -‘Fantasia Shell Pink’ 5. Ring Pattern -‘Survivor Pink’

6. Bar Pattern -‘Diva 893’ 7. Simple Vein-‘Caliente Pink’  8.Feathery Vein - ‘Andria’

9.  P. frutetorum  10. Pelargonium zonale  11. Sarcocaulon vanderetiae

12. Pelargonium magenteum   13.Pelargonium acraeum  14.Pelargonium cordifolium

                               15.  Pelargonium inquinans var. niveo-unquiculatum

                               [L. Trattinnick – Neue Arten von Pelargonien  v.1, t. 31, 1826]

Pelargonium inquinans and P. zonale, thought to be the ancestors of zonal Pelargoniums, were

some of the first Pelargoniums introduced into Europe. Pelargonium inquinans has bright scarlet

red flowers with darker veins on the petals which have a short, basal, white claw. Pelargonium

zonale has white or lavender pink flowers with a faint vein pattern on the petals. Over the decades

various mutations have occurred which have changed the simple basic appearances of these flowers

 to the complex and wonderful array of colors that we see today. In addition to the various genes

controlling flower color, there are several genes which control the development of a variety of patterns

 of pigmentation on the petals (in addition to others controlling patterns on the leaves). R. Tilney-Bassett

(Variegated Zonal Pelargoniums, 2008) and his students at the University of Wales Swansea have studied

 the inheritance of flower color and some of the various floral patterns and determined the genes and

alleles that control them. While some of the patterns have been recognized and named for many years:

 phlox-eye, white eye and picotee/painted lady, not all of them have been formally recognized (i.e. as show

categories) by geranium fanciers.

Phlox-eyed flowers have a darker, colored area at the center of the flower. According to Tilney-Bassett

et al., this would appear to be controlled by the "center pattern" gene, designated as Ce ce. In the phlox

-eyed flowers there is a colored, V shaped zone at the base of each petal. (He writes that this is a product

of the interaction of the alleles Ce and Ve, but does not explain what that means.) Examples include the

following cultivars: ‘Dawn Flush’, ‘Francis James’, ‘Nellie Nuttal’, ‘Nicor Star’, Flora Nova’s ‘Dancer Star’,

‘Charmay Cocky’, ‘Elanos Rose Picotee’, ‘Maverick Star’, ‘Americana Pink Mega Splash’, ‘Divas Star

The picotee or painted lady pattern is seen as a thin band of color along the edge of each petal. This

is controlled by the picotee gene, Pi pi (and possibly another allele vp). Examples include: ‘Emperor

Nicholas’, ‘Yvonne’, ‘Kerensa’, ‘Designer Picotee Salmon’, ‘Edwards Chiffon’, ‘Silver Celebration’,

 ‘Divas Ice Mix’, ‘Deacon Picotee’, ‘Carmel’.

The presence of a white-eye or a white center in the flower may be due to either the white-splash

gene or the pink-white-eye gene. The white splash is a V-shaped zone of white at the base of each

petal and is designated as the Vws allele (in the series V for full color, Vws for white splash and vp for

picotee). Examples with the white eye or white splash pattern include the following cultivars: ‘Ainsdale

Eyeful’, ‘Winston Churchill’, ‘Dolphin’, ‘Dryden’, ‘Allure Pink Sizzle’, ‘Savannah Hot Pink Sizzle’.

Another form of white eye, where only the upper two petals have a white splotch, is controlled by another

gene Pwe pwe. It was originally thought that this form of white eye was tied to the pink colored flowers

but this was not found to be true. There are pink flowers without the white spot. Cultivars showing the

pink white eye are: ‘Dagata’, ‘Verona’, ‘Designer Hot Pink’, ‘Designer Bright Lilac’.

The presence of a colored spot somewhere on the lower half of each petal (a popular form amongst current

geranium breeders) has been named the "ring pattern" and is controlled by the interaction of the bar gene

 (Ba) and Ve. Tilney-Bassett does not explain how this works. Cultivars showing the five spots characteristic

of this pattern include: ‘Fantasia Cranberry Sizzle’, ‘Fantasia Purple Sizzle’, ‘Freckles’, ‘Chelsea Morning’,

PAC ‘Ice Crystal’, ‘Allure Light Pink’, ‘Designer Light Pink Sizzle’, ‘Americana White Splash’ (2 forms).

The bar pattern – Ba ba – "has pigment localized within a small zone on both side near the base of each of the

lower" three petals. This pattern can be seen in ’Divas Orange Ice’, ‘Divas Rose Ice’, ‘Horizon Petticoat’.

 (Tilney-Bassett writes that the interaction of Ba with Ve produces the ring pattern, but no details are given.)

While the pattern of veins in the petals is prominent in some cultivars of regal Pelargoniums, in most cultivars

of zonal Pelargoniums the veins are lacking or inconspicuous. However, three states can be seen amongst the

various cultivars. These include (1) the vein-less pattern, (2) the simple vein pattern and (3) the feather vein or

 herring bone pattern. These conditions are controlled by three alleles: Vef for feathery veins, Ve for simple veins

and ve for no veins or vein-less. Example: feathery veins – ‘Ice Crystal’, ‘Love Story’; simple vein

 – ‘Salmon Black Vesuvius’, ‘Dresden

 Wilkinson (The Passion for Pelargoniums) has attempted to document the first appearance of various traits

among the various groups of Pelargoniums. Presumably the appearance of a new trait reflects the occurrence

 of a mutation within a given plant of Pelargonium. (Note the exemptions of chimeras, the introduction of new

 traits through selective breeding and the introduction of viruses.) While this is a valid approach to the history

 of the plants in the genus Pelargonium, a survey of the various species within the genus illustrates the presence

many of these traits in nature. [Examples of species with floral patterns: bar pattern – some images of Sarcocaulon

anderietiae; phlox eye – Geranium maderense; ring pattern – P. magenteum, Sarcocaulon multifidum; pink white eye

P. acraeum; simple veins – P. acetosum, P. frutetorum; feathery veins – P. cordifolium; veinless – P. barklyi] The

occurrence of various novelties was fairly regularly reported in the 19th century horticultural print media

(particularly in the European literature) so it was a matter of finding the first mention to determine approximately

 when various sports occurred. Obviously this method depends on the thoroughness of the reporting and the

extent of the search.

Another approach is to examine the illustrations of plants before the age of color photography. Examples:

Phlox-eyed geranium – P. zonale ‘Madam. Marie Van Houtte’ from Victor Lemoine.

[Image from Illustrirte Garten- Zeitung, 1866, Vol. 10 p. 49. Taf. 4; Albert Courtin (Editor)]


Pink-white-eye – Geranium ‘Rose Rendatler’

[Image from Illustrirte Garten- Zeitung, 1862, Vol. 6, p. 97, Taf. 7; Karl Müller (Editor)]


Double-flowered picotee –

‘Hubert Charron’

[Image from Peter Henderson’s Everything for the Garden Catalog, 1901, p. 143]


 Picotee Pattern – ‘Souvenir de Mirande’

 [Image from Henderson’s Everything for the Garden Catalog, 1892, p. 132]


Assuming that a similar trait in different, closely related species is controlled by the same gene and alleles,

then the appearance of a novel trait in a species where it previously was not seen is just a matter of time until

that trait occurs through the modification (mutation) of a pre-existing allele of the same gene. Alternatively, a

trait might be introduced by breeding with a different species possessing that trait. In addition, new patterns

may develop from the interaction of genes controlling different aspects of a similar trait.

Clearly, this is an on-going story and we await the next chapter. An approximation of history is the best we can hope for.

© 2015, Central Coast Geranium Society (CCGS )