The Country Gentleman’s Magazine, 3: 554-555 (December 1869)

W. Smith

WE have two letters before us (T. B., Dublin, and J. T., Bury) asking for information relative to the propagation for sale of the Tricolor Zonals. We think that the following remarks by Mr W. Smith, which appeared recently in the Gardeners' Chronicle, will afford the best reply we can give to our correspondents:—

"So many thousands of these variegated seedlings have been raised, and by so many different hands, on different soils, and under different circumstances, that there can now be no doubt that variegation (in Pelargoniums, at all events) may be, and is reproduced from seed. There is no difficulty in performing the operation of cross-breeding; nothing can be easier. Every lady in the land may raise an improved Mrs Pollock, or any quantity of them, with her own hand; it is simply necessary to remove the anthers from the flower chosen to bear the seed (before the pollen is displayed), and then, as soon as the little horns of the pistil curl backwards, to apply to them the pollen from the flower chosen as the male parent. It will have been noticed that Mr Grieve, in all the examples given (with one exception, and that his first attempt), chose a dark zoned variety for the seed-bearer, and fertilized it with the pollen from a variegated sort—Mrs Pollock, for example. In the exceptional case, he had simply reversed this. There is no doubt at all that the first plan is the best, and by ‘best' I mean that it will yield a far greater per-centage of variegated seedlings, and of better quality. I think, also, I have a glimmering of the reason of this, thanks to the late Donald Beaton, who proved over and over again, that in the races of Pelargoniums from which the tricolors have been raised, the leaf is always like that of the pollen parent, and he gives the following example;—'Cross Tom Thumb with the pollen of a horse-shoe variety, and the seedlings, will all have the horse-shoe leaf; cross the deepest marked horse-shoe variety with the pollen of Tom Thumb, and all the seedlings are plain leaved.' How is it, then, that Mr Grieve was able to raise Culford Beauty (a variegated seedling) from Flower of the Day by pollen from Cottage Maid, a green zonal?— that Mr Aldred raised Sophie Dumaresque from Sunset by the pollen of the green zonal Excellent; and that many other cross breeders have been successful by the same process? In the limits of an essay it is impossible to do more than indicate possible answers; indeed, a perfect answer remains to be found. Again, I must call Beaton to my aid; he has proved that the pollen of the strongest plant (or coarsest, as some would say) takes the lead in influencing the progeny. If, for instance, the pollen of a weak growing variety be placed on four of the five divisions of the style, and pollen from a stronger-growing variety be placed on the fifth division, the seedlings will all have foliage like the stronger. Does not this shew that, to ensure a given result, something more is required than simply placing pollen upon the style? May not the disease (or affection) called ‘variegation' be able so far to overcome the power of the pollen from the coarser-growing zonal, as to transmit itself to the seedlings in certain cases, as, when the pollen-bearing plant is a weaker grower; or not in prime health, if a stronger grower; when the pollen itself is immature, or produced by the anthers of the short stamens—anything, in fact, which should just sufficiently restrain the power of the pollen? Whatever may be the cause, the fact remains: that the best plan is to let the green zonal be the seed bearer, and this is the plan adopted by cross breeders generally. Nor is this all: the pollen borne upon the two shortest stamens seems to have special power in increasing the tendency to variegation, but with one drawback, that it also dwarfs the seedlings.

The plant intended to be the seed-bearer should be two years old, and must not have suffered from free-flowering in the previous year; it should have made all its roots, and have its pot brimful of them. Not more than one truss of bloom should be allowed on each strong branch: the two or three first and last blooms should be discarded: all the blooms to be crossed on one plant should be done as nearly as possible at the same time, and the plant should be carefully stopped from the first day of crossing. These are the directions given by Beaton—he calls them his 'secrets,' and we need wish for no better guide.

Lastly, do not be in a hurry to throw away those plants which shew no sign of variegation early in life, as eventually they may prove the best; for precocity in plants, as in a man, is too often the sure forerunner of an early death, or of a premature old age."