Breeding Geraniums/Pelargoniums

Species and Varieties, pp. 628-629 (1904)
Hugo de Vries
Another novelty was seen the first time in several individuals. It was a pink sport of the European cranesbill, Geranium pratense. It arose quite unexpectedly in the summer of 1902 from a striped variety of the blue species. It was seen in seven specimens out of a lot of about a hundred plants. This strain was introduced into my garden in 1897, when I bought two plants under the name of Geranium pratense album, which however proved to belong to the striped variety. From their seeds I sowed in 1898 a first generation, of which a hundred plants flowered the next year, and from their seeds I sowed in 1900 the lot which produced the sport. Neither the introduced plants nor their offspring had exhibited the least sign of a color-variation, besides the blue and white stripes. Hence it is very probable that my novelty was a true first mutation, the more probably so since a pink variety would without doubt have a certain horticultural value and would have been preserved if it had occurred. But as far as I have been able to ascertain, it is as yet unknown, nor has it been described until today.

Alleged Hybrids of Geranium and Pelargonium

Floricultural Cabinet 6: 211 (Sept. 1, 1838)
We tried several successive years to hybridize the Pelargoniums with the blue flowered Garden Geranium, but could not succeed. A white flowered Pelargoniums was impregnated with G. striata, the pretty striped flower of the borders, and it was judged to have effected the purpose; a striped flowering Pelargonium was raised. But as sufficient care was not taken to prevent impregnation from some other Pelargoniums, it could not be positively determined as to the real fact. Perhaps some of our numerous readers may be able to give us additional information. CONDUCTOR

The Garden 5:81 (January 24, 1874)
Francis Miles, Bingham, Notts.
"CAN you hybridise Geranium pratense with your Zonal varieties?" I asked Mr. Pearson, the famous Zonal Pelargonium-grower. "I think not; but my neighbour, Mr. Lowe, of Highfield House, thinks he can. We will go there and see for ourselves." So off we went next day, and saw Mr. Lowe's wonderful repository for all kinds of curiosities; saw his hybrid seedlings from Lilium auratum, which had not yet flowered; saw the yard filled with valuable Lilies, all to be or being hybridised; and last, not least, his collection of seedling Ferns, which is perfectly wonderful. I believe there are here not less than 15,000 different varieties of English Ferns, nearly all raised from seed, many of them being varieties only in a connoisseur's eyes. There are Ferns lovely, Ferns ugly, Ferns like fairy dreams, and Ferns like grim nightmares; Ferns tall, crested, broad, narrow, long, short, curled, straight, twisted like Mosses, or split up into fronds as delicate as the Maidenhair, and as unlike their normal form as anything can be. There are few horticultural sensations so great as the variety of Mr. Lowe's Ferns. He is certain that he has succeeded in raising crosses between different Ferns by sowing the spores mixed together, and some of the odd seedlings which he showed us seemed to confirm his statement. "My friend wants to see," said Mr. Pearson, "if you have hybridised the blue Geranium of the fields with the Zonal. Have you done so?" "Undoubtedly. Come and look." And we saw a great number of seedlings raised from the blue Geranium crossed with Madame Vaucher, a well-known white Zonal. Most of these in no way differed from the female parent, with one striking exception, which was a small plant with little leaves, almost like those of a show Pelargonium, and with flowers having the narrowest petals imaginable, which were of a bluish-pink tint. The whole plant resembled somewhat the old pink bedder, Lady Cullum, except that its petals were very much smaller than I have ever seen in any Pelargonium, seedling or otherwise. Of the seedlings raised from the Zonal for the female fertilised with the blue G. pratense there was a large frameful, nearly all of which showed more or less inclination to the deeply-cut leaf of the male parent. One plant in particular differed but little from G. pratense, and most of the flowers showed traces of blue; some, however, were red, a curious fact, as the female parent was again Madame Vaucher. Nearly all the flowers were very small, and generally extraordinarily narrow-petalled. In the end, both Mr. Pearson and myself came away convinced that these were true hybrids, for, as Mr. Pearson remarked, "there can be no other way of raising such extraordinary varieties." My reasons for wanting to know how Mr. Lowe's experiments had succeeded are these. I have been trying for three years, quite independently of any one else, to raise a cross between these two plants. My first year was quite unsuccessful. The year before last I crossed, as I fully believe, a Zonal, with a bluish tinge in it, named Lawrence Heywood, with G. pratense. Only four seeds ripened, which came up when I was away, as I generally am, and, I suppose, consequently damped off. So, last summer, I set to work again, and crossed several Zonals with G. pratense; every cross took, and I waited for the store of seeds to ripen, which they did with a vengeance; for one sad morning I found all my seeds had scattered themselves, and been irretrievably lost; luckily three were still discoverable; these I sowed, and, after six months' waiting, one seedling is putting in, or rather out, an appearance in a small saucer in my greenhouse. It has cotyledons similar to those of G. pratense, and promises soon to exhibit its first leaf. I am aware that many of our great horticulturists, Major Trevor Clarke for example, have said that there can be no true hybrid as I have described. I know little of botany; nevertheless, I believe, after my second experiment, that it could be done, and in this I am confirmed by Mr. Pearson, who is one of our best hybridisers. Whether we shall ever have a blue Zonal Pelargonium or not is another matter, and on which some of your readers can possibly throw some light.

Gardeners' Chronicle 3: 83-84 (Jan. 16, 1875)
E. J. Lowe, Highfield House, Jan. 11.
Hybrid Pelargoniums, &c—My attention has been directed to some letters in the Gardeners' Chronicle on the crossing of Geranium pratense (the blue field Geranium) with the Zonal Pelargonium Madame Vaucher. Will you, therefore, allow me a small space in your journal to say a few words on the subject of various crosses from my own experience? There can be no doubt with regard to my seedling Pelargonium, Mrs. Illingworth, being a true cross between G. pratense and Madame Vaucher; the habit is different and more bushy than Madame Vaucher, the leaves are unlike any Zonal, the cluster of bloom is large, the colour pale pink, and the petals closely copy silver paper in texture, hanging down and giving the blooms a distinct and elegant appearance. Another variety, Hebe, differs in having the colour a brick red, and this variety proved very hardy out-of-doors last summer. Several varieties have a bluish-pink tinge. A large number of the seedlings are white, many had evidently not taken the pollen of G. pratense, and scarcely differed from Madame Vaucher, yet Pixy, Puck, Leda, and Liberatrix, though all white-flowered, are most certainly crosses. The two first-named have the individual blooms very small; Leda will stand a month's incessant rain without its colour changing from a pure white, whilst Madame Vaucher, with a week's rain, will be quite pink. Liberatrix is a grand white flower, but has not yet been planted out-of-doors. I cannot understand why so many persons believe that seedlings take more after the male than the female parent; in my experience only three plants out of 200 had the leaves and habit of G. pratense, and out of nearly 100 seedling Fuchsias, using fulgens as the male, only one had the leaves of that variety. Three months ago I gathered a number of seeds from Fuchsia fulgens, which had been crossed with Delight and other varieties with white corollas, also a number from various varieties that had been crossed with fulgens, so that this summer I hope to strengthen my views. From a number of years' experience, I have formed the opinion that the habit of a plant and the form of its flowers takes after the female plant, whilst colour is given by the male. For many years, where practicable, I have always used a white-flowered plant of good habit for the female, impregnating it with coloured male pollen in order to produce new tints. By carrying out this plan I raised the Imperial Blue Pansy, and, by persevering in the same manner, do not despair of raising a blue Pelargonium. Last summer I was exceedingly successful in raising new varieties of Fuchsias and Pansies. By crossing Fuchsia Sedan with F. fulgens, using the former as the female parent, a cross was obtained which has been named Polyhymnia, having orange-scarlet flowers of large size, a small leaf, and an excellent habit; it is so remarkably distinct and pretty that it must become a general favourite. Another cross, named Concordia, with a strong habit, has the tube and sepals scarlet and the corolla purple and very large, the sepals curving in a very graceful manner; a third, Fortuna, is deep scarlet, with a large purple corolla; and a fourth, Titania, using the small-leaved variety pyramidalis as the male, has the flowers scarlet with a mauve coloured corolla: this variety is quite unlike anything else yet raised. Turning to Pansies, out of over thirty very fine varieties (carefully crossed) having strong vigorous habits and large well-formed flowers, the following may be mentioned:—Johanna, a rich dark blue-purple; Harmonia, deep blue (a splendid flower); Nysa, intense blue; Thyra, lavender-purple self (a splendid flower); Polyhymnia, a lavender self; Diana, pale blue; Brunhilda, black self; Sylvia, clear blue self; Daphne, lavender self; Gerda, dark blue; Olympia, a many coloured fancy; Galatea, blue and white fancy; Camilla, purple and white fancy; Melpomene, pink and white fancy; Pomona, white self with bright blue eye (a splendid flower); Clytie, lavender and straw-coloured fancy, (a splendid flower); Iphigenia, white with blue centre (a splendid flower); Flora, a much improved Imperial Blue; Conservative, another improved Imperial Blue; Princess Teck, a rich crimson-scarlet, purple and white fancy (a splendid flower). The above seedling Pansies have resisted seven weeks' intense frost unprotected, their constitution being as good as Imperial Blue. Mr. Pearson of the Chilwell Nurseries has my Pelargonium Mrs. Illingworth, and Fuchsia Polyhymnia, so that the public will soon be able to judge for themselves as to their claims. Allow me to point out that when a flower has been impregnated it needs no protection from insects, as no second impregnation will take place; care is, however, requisite before this operation, and all stamens should be cut from the female before they have ripe pollen, or the colour of crossing will be lost, indeed some flowers require dissection, as the pollen is mature before they become expanded.

Grieve: Raising New Pelargoniums (1875)
If therefore, very considerable difficulty is experienced in obtaining a cross between allied plants of kindred species, it may well be supposed that this difficulty will be greatly intensified when attempts are made to produce hybrid plants between distinct genera; yet this, Mr. Lowe, of Highfield House, near Nottingham, considers he has accomplished. He has, he thinks, produced a variety between Madame Vaucher, a white-flowered zonal, and the hardy blue-flowered British plant, Geranium pratense. This may, of course, be so; indeed, Mr. Pearson—an authority, as may be supposed, on such matters—admits himself to be nearly, if not altogether, convinced that such is the case.

Gardeners Chronicle 5: 699 (May 27, 1876)
P. Grieve, Culford, Bury St. Edmunds.
Influence of Foreign Pollen on the Progeny of Plants.—In your issue for November 28, 1874,  p. 689, you kindly allowed me to describe some results obtained, as I thought, by the application of pollen taken from other plants, and applied to flowers which had already been fertilised by their own pollen. I also at the same time detailed some attempts made to fertilise blooms of the blue-flowered Geranium pratense with the pollen of various variegated varieties of the Zonal Pelargonium. This was done, not so much in expectation of obtaining a cross between the two genera (which I had but little hope of being likely to accomplish), as to illustrate an idea which I entertained, viz., that the progeny of some plants might be to some extent influenced (without, however, entailing upon it what appears to be the inevitable inheritance of hybridity, namely, sterility) by the use of pollen furnished by plants between which and the intended seed-bearing plant there did not exist the necessary degree of affinity required to be likely to lead to the production of a cross, or hybrid production between them. On this account I used exclusively the pollen of variegated Zonal Pelargoniums, thinking that, should the condition of variegation be in any instance induced in the offspring it would to some extent warrant the assumption of the pollen applied having had the effect of in some degree feeding or nourishing the ovules. As was stated in the communication alluded to of November, 1874, this experiment did not lead to any appreciable result; but a subsequent attempt has, as the accompanying leaves will show, been more conclusive as to the feasibility of my premises, as I have now secured several plants of the Geranium pratense, with variegated or golden margined foliage, as well as some with bronzy coloured leaves, the pollen of bronze zonal varieties of the Pelargonium having also been applied to some of the stigmas of the Geranium blooms. I am now anxious to ascertain if variegation has ever before been observed in the foliage of Geranium pratense, for if this has been the case it will, of course, detract considerably from the importance or value of this experiment, while, on the other hand, if this condition has never before been observed in the foliage of this plant, it will then be no more than reasonable to suppose that the application of pollen from variegated Pelargoniums has in this instance been the cause of its development. The plants in question have not as yet flowered, and their doing so will of course be watched with some degree of interest, as it is possible that some diversity in the colour, form, &c, of the flowers may also be developed. Care will also be taken to ascertain if the variegated plants will produce fertile seeds or otherwise. The idea of obtaining a variety of Pelargonium with blue flowers has generally been regarded as something so Utopian or chimerical as hardly deserving of serious consideration, and, although admitted to be a desideratum, is, nevertheless, considered as one very unlikely to be realised. If, however, the condition of variegation can be induced by the agency of pollen from a distinct but kindred genus of plants, it does not appear to be so very unreasonable to suppose that the blue element contained in the flowers of Geranium pratense, and possible some other plants, may by a similar process be conveyed to the flowers of some of our Zonal Pelargoniums. It is possible that I may ere long be able to show what may justly be considered as a step in this direction; but I had better not yield to the pardonable weakness of “counting my chickens before they are hatched”—but dum spiro spero. [The appearance of the leaves sent was such as to justify the inference that a true cross had been effected, the leaves having the form of those of G. pratense, while the colour was that of a yellow-leaved Pelargonium. EDS.]

Gardeners’ Chronicle 6: 49 (July 8, 1876)
P. Grieve, Culford, Bury St. Edmunds.
Influence of Foreign Pollen on the Progeny of Plants.—In a previous letter to you on this subject, in your issue of May 26, p. 699, I said that the flowering of the seedling plants of Geranium pratense, which had exhibited variegation in their leaves, would be watched with considerable interest. Most of them are now in flower, and I herewith enclose blooms for your inspection, and although the variegation in the foliage has in some of them nearly disappeared, still this tendency to variegation, combined with the colour of the blooms produced by these plants, will, I think, to some extent substantiate the correctness of my theory, viz., that the progeny of plants may be influenced by the application of the pollen of other species between which and the seed-bearing plants there may not exist that degree of affinity considered necessary to warrant the expectation of the production of a true cross or hybrid, which should partake in a nearly equal ratio of the properties of each parent. As stated in my former letter the pollen of Zonal Pelargoniums with variegated foliage was exclusively used upon the blooms of Geranium pratense, assuming that, should the condition of variegation be in any degree found in the progeny of the latter plants, this might be considered as an earnest of the Pelargonium pollen having had an effect. Variegation certainly has appeared in the foliage of these plants, but whether this may be of a permanent character or otherwise, remains to be proved. And the colour of the flowers is a reddish violet, or just what might have been expected as the result of mingling scarlet with the pale blue colour of the blooms of Geranium pratense. In your note appended to my former letter you say, "The appearance of the leaves sent was such as to justify the inference that a true cross had been effected." The colour of the blooms will also, I think, tend to strengthen this opinion. But, on the other hand, the seedling plants do not in any other respect deviate from the normal condition—the habit of growth, form, and dimensions of leaves and flowers being precisely the same as in the ordinary form of Geranium pratense, and the flowers have at present all the appearance of producing fertile seed. So that should the condition of sterility be accepted as the test of hybridity, the plants in question will fail to be considered as hybrids, and if so, it may be difficult to say what they are. But should it be admitted that the progeny of plants may be occasionally influenced or affected by the application of pollen from species only distantly allied to them, even after the flowers of such plants may have been fertilised by their own pollen, this will then go far to account for the appearance of sports or abnormal productions which so frequently present themselves in the various families of plants, and to account for which no satisfactory cause appears to have been as yet assigned.

Scientific American Supplement, 3(62): 976-977 (March 10, 1877)
W. G. Smith: Pollen
A great deal has been written as to the possible hybrids between our wild Geraniums and our garden varieties, especially with a view to get a blue strain of color into the garden plants. As far as we know, all these attempts have proved abortive, and from a study of the pollens in the geranium family we are inclined to think that no such hybrids will ever be obtained. Fig. 64 is the pollen grain belonging to our wild Geranium sanguineum. G. Pheum is the same size, whilst G. pratense is much larger. On the other hand, Fig. 65 represents the pollen of Pelargonium zonale. In Mr. Turner's fine collection of Geraniums and Pelargoniums the pollens are very similar with the latter.

Jour Roy Hort Soc (1879)
Hybrid Geranium.Mr. Grieve sent specimens of a plant with the foliage of Geranium pratense but more divided than usual and with a yellowish tinge. It was supposed to be the result of the influence of the pollen of a Pelargonium on Geranium pratense, but the evidence as to the cross is incomplete.

Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener (June 24, 1880)
A collection of Zonals from Mr. P. Fry, Addington, Maidstone, supposed to be hybrids between Geranium pratense and several Zonal varieties, also received much attention. They were stated to be perpetually flowering forms, but the peculiar large distorted trusses produced rendered them more strange than ornamental.

The Garden 17: 568 (June 26, 1880)
Mr. Fry, Maidstone, exhibited about half-a-dozen examples of a zonal Pelargonium with scarlet flowers, which possessed the peculiarity of producing secondary trusses of bloom in an umbrella-like manner, about half way up the original flower-stem, whereby each plant was furnished with a huge mass of flowers, which, however, would by most persons not be considered desirable. The origin of this peculiar freak of producing flowers is supposed to be the result of the crossing of the indigenous Geranium pratense with a scarlet Zonal Pelargonium, a supposition which is generally admitted to be absurd.