By Wayne L. Handlos, Ph.D.
The middle of the nineteenth century saw the explosion of the zonal
pelargonium/geranium as a primary bedding plant in England and Europe.
The earliest diversification of this group related to stature and flower color.
The first plants were rather tall and rangy and the flower color was predominantly
red. However, there soon followed many other variations in the appearance of
these plants which gave us the wonderful range of types that we have
Following is a list and brief description of the many variations which have
occurred in this popular bedding plant.
Double Flowers—The multiplication of petals (beyond the basic five) occurred about 1860
and by 1869 the French nurseryman Lemoine listed 70 double flowered zonals.
Rosebuds—In these flowers there are many extra petals giving the appearance of a small,
but very double rose flower. They have been with us since 1870.
Fancy Leaves—Leaf variegation (beyond the dark colored band which gives the group its
name) has been known since the 1700’s, but the development of many new types was led by
P. Grieve and described in his publication of 1869. So today we have gold, bronze, silver/
gold margins, tricolors and butterfly leaf cultivars.
Black Leaves—The very darkly pigmented leaves originated about 1889.
Striped Flower, New Life or Paint-box—These appeared about 1868. The flowers are
striped and spotted with a color different from the rest of the flower. This is popularly referred
to as a “jumping gene” effect and every petal is distinctively patterned. Occasionally
the whole petal or flower is one color.
Phlox-eyed or Oculate—In these types the center of the flower is darker colored than the
surrounding petal tissue. These have been known since at least 1869.
Painted Lady or Cyclops—The flower of these varieties have a white center and have been
around since 1886. This is the reverse pattern of the phlox-eyed types.
Dwarf, Miniature, Compact or Lilliputian Plants—These are plants of small stature and
this trait is determined genetically (not due to cultural practices i.e., small pots, low fertility
levels, chemical growth regulators). These were available in 1868 in Germany and by 1884
Tetraploids—These are plants with double the basic number of chromosomes. Bruant’s “Grand Bois” first appeared
about 1870/74 and were considered superior because of their sturdy structure and sun tolerance.
Fringed or Carnation Flowers—The petals of these plants are finely toothed along the edge. This trait is also found
in other groups ofPelargonium.
Cactus or Poinsettia Flowers—In these plants, the petals are narrow and rolled and sometimes twisted. The earliest
was ‘Fire Dragon’ and was available in 1899.
Stellars—The leaves and petals of the stellars are deeply and sharply lobed. The original cultivar ‘Chinese Cactus’
appeared in Australia in the 1950’s.
Formosums or Fingered Flowers—In this type the leaves are deeply lobed almost to their base. These were discovered
in Baja California in the 1960’s.
Tulip Flowered—The first type ‘Patricia Andrea’ appeared in 1966. The flowers of this type do not open fully and
have the appearance of a tulip bud.
Mr. Wren—This cultivar is in a category of its own. The flower is red with a distinct white (pink when cold) edge.
This cultivar is a chimera (like the white margined leaves of many fancy leafed plants). Chimeras will be described
later in another newsletter. A chimera possesses at least two genetically different types of cells within the same plant.
Additional variations can be found in manyPelargonium cultivars because of interspecific hybridization. Crosses between
P. x hortorumand P. peltatum have given rise to a number of ivy-zonal crosses including ‘Rococo’ and the Galleria
series from Ball FloraPlant. The Caliente series of cultivars from Syngenta are derived from crosses involvingP.
x hortorumand P. tongaense. In addition some plants are derived from crosses between P. x hortorum and P. acetosum
or P. x hortorum and P. quinquelobatum