Journal of Horticulture New Series No. 323, pp. 387-388 ( June 6, 1867)

J. Wills

[THE following is the paper on this subject which Mr. Wills intended to have read at the Royal Horticultural Society's Meeting, May 21st.]

My intention was, had there been time, to have brought the whole of my specimens of the old Pelargoniums before the meeting. They would have illustrated the progress that has been made from the year 1710 to the present time. I have to thank Mr. Davies, gardener to Lord Bridport, for several of these curious old forms. One of them, Miller's old variegated, is especially interesting, as being the first variegated Pelargonium ever seen in this conntry, and probably the parent of all the beautiful variegated forms we see around us on this occasion. I have also in my collection plants of two of the wild Cape Pelargoniums—namely, Pelargonium inquinans, the parent of all the plain-leaved section, and the wild Pelargonium zonale, which is the parent of all the zonate varieties. These old varieties, which have been so long cast aside as worthless, are, nevertheless, very interesting, as being the parents of the magnificent host of variegated Pelargoniums we see around us.

I am very much inclined to think that it is not by man's agency that our first variegated kinds were obtained. My opinion is, that Nature in the first instance received no assistance from man, but that some of the earliest variegated kinds originated naturally. The first silver-variegated Pelargonium of any note was sent out many years ago by the Messrs. Lee, of Hammersmith, and named by them Lee's Variegated Scarlet; and I think there can be little doubt but that the origin of this variety was a sport from a green parent, which may have been naturally impregnated by the pollen of Pelargonium zonale variegatum. One of the seedlings from this natural cross, although perfectly green for several years, may have had the tendency to variegation, and many years may have elapsed before the plant had sufficiently matured itself to enable it to produce a variegated sport. In support of this view, I may quote a letter I received some months ago from Mr. Davies, and in which he says, "Many years ago I raised a quantity of seedlings from Lee's Flower of the Day. One of them produced a beautiful bright scarlet flower, the flower-truss of which was very large. The original parent, which is now about 18 feet high by 10 feet wide, continued perfectly green till about four years ago, when it occasionally threw out sports, producing variegated leaves on different parts of the plant, which are generally greatly admired." Many instances of a similar nature have come under my own observation. This, I think, will show the possibility of plants retaining variegation in their nature for many years, and only developing it when the plant has grown to a large size, or been subjected to some peculiar treatment.

Whatever may have been the origin of Lee's Variegated Scarlet, it is certain it was the parent of some of our very best silver-margined varieties. From it Mr. Kinghorn raised Flower of the Day, a variety which is still grown very largely, and is not yet surpassed for general usefulness by any at present in cultivation. Flower of the Day was followed by Mountain of Light, and a little later Mrs. Lennox appeared: after this Bijou, Alma, nnd many others in the same way. Previous to the appearance of these varieties Mr. Kinghom raised Attraction, which was the first variety ever produced with a pink zone. This was followed by Countess of Warwick, and then the appearance of Mr. Elphinstone's varieties created a sensation. Their names were—Fontainbleau, Hotel de Cluny, St. Cloud, and The Queen's Favourite. In 1833 Mangles' Silver Variegated appeared as a sport on Pelargonium heterogamum in the garden of Captain Mangles at Sunning Hill. This variety has never been of any use for cross-breening purposes. I have never known it ripen seed but once; that was at Oulton Park during the hot and dry summer of 1865. None of the seed vegetated. The origin of Golden Chain was a sport from P. inquinans, produced about the year 1844, in the neighbourhood of Ipswich. Some years after this Lady Plymouth also sported from P. graveolens. Osborne's Brilliant appeared in 1851; this was also a sport.

There are several claimants to the honour of having raised the first Tricolored Pelargonium. A correspondent stated in THE JOURNAL OF HORTICULTURE lately, that the first Tricolor was raised in the neighbourhood of Blackheath nearly twenty years ago, and that it was named Rainbow. If this statement is true, it is strange that a variety nearly equal to Mrs. Pollock should have remained unknown so long, and that its fortunate raiser had not a keener eye to business. Mr. Elphinstone, of the Sprowston Nurseries, Norwich, appears to have exhibited the first Tricolor. In a letter which I received from him some months ago, he said, "I raised the first Tricolor Pelargonium, and exhibited it at the Horticultural Society's rooms in Regent Street in the year 1851, and was highly complimented by the late Dr. Lindley." This variety Mr. Elphinstone sold to Mr. Veitch, who could do nothing with it, and eventually lost it. Major Trevor Clarke, I believe, was the first to discover the potency of the pollen of Golden Chain upon other varieties. To Mr. Grieve belongs the honour of having produced the first permanent Tricolor. His name will be handed down to posterity alone, as the originator of this beautiful class of plants. The advent of his Mrs. Pollock In 1861 caused quite a revolution amongst raisers and growers of bedding Pelargoniums. I have no doubt that Mr. Grieve procured Mr. Elphinstone's and Mr. Kinghorn's varieties, and with them was enabled to bring abont such wonderful results. I know, from my own experience, that green seedlings from Mr. Elphinstone's varieties were produced in large numbers with very dark and partly variegated zones. The pollen of Golden Chain applied to the flowers of these would produce both Golden and Silver Tricolors. One of these seedlings, raised five years ago from The Queen's Favourite, I used last year as a female parent, because the zone was very dark and beautifully defined, and the plant showed faint signs of variegation on its stem. Its flowers were fertilised with the pollen of one of my Golden Tricolors: it has produced both Golden and Silver Tricolors, and one of the seedlings that remained perfectly green for nine months afterwards threw out both Silver and Golden Tricolorp. This plant, also shown in my collection, is a living proof that both Golden and Silver Tricolors can be produced by one plant spontaneously.

I have noticed in many instances seedling plants producing a solitary variegated leaf after they had attained a height of 9 or 12 inches, and that this leaf has had sufficient power to inoculate the whole of the plant. If the variegated leaf is carefully preserved on the plant, and some of the green leaves above it are removed, the effect of inoculation will soon be observed. This will go on spreading and increasing until the whole system of the plant has become inoculated; the plant will then break out into variegation, and if any green leaves appear on the variegated sport they should be immediately removed. This will enable the variegated portions to predominate, and the future character of the plant will remain fixed and permanent, only occasionally, perhaps, showing a green leaf.

Again, small seedling-plants only showing very faint signs of variegation in the cotyledons will ultimately become permanently variegated, although no sign of variegation may be seen on any of the leaves of the plants for nine, twelve, or twenty-four months; afterwards, if such plants be kept, it will be seen on close examination by any one that there are streaks of variegation appearing on the stem near the position of one of the cotyledons. These streaks, if the plant be freely cultivated, will extend very rapidly, and the variegation will increase month after month until the whole system of the plant become thoroughly impregnated; then the plant will begin pushing out variegated shoots from the base upwards. Some times I have found the variegated portion extend too rapidly, especially when it begins to develops itself on very young plants or in an early stage of their growth. In this case, I always pinch portions of the variegated foliage away to enable the green leaves of the plant to recruit its strength, and when it is found necessary to check the predominance of the green part, portions of the foliage on this part of the plant are picked off. To such plants as these I give the preference. I have found, after the sports they produce are fixed, that they are propagated much more easily, and grow much more freely, than do the cuttings from plants that are perpetuated from seedlings which have become very much variegated in an early stage of their growth. In these, the constitution of the plant becomes very much crippled by variegation.

A curious instance of sporting is seen in a large plant of the bronze and gold section, named Her Majesty. The female parent of Her Majesty was one of the green seedlings from The Queen's Favourite, which I have before referred to. The plant was two years old when it was used as a pollen parent, and did not exhibit the slightest signs of variegation at the time I selected it for fertilising with the pollen of Beauty of Oulton, on account of its having a very deep zone. Two months ago it threw out a white sport near the position of one of the cotyledons. I took it off, struck it, and it is now to be seen in my collection. Another white sport appeared shortly afterwards; this still remains on the plant, and may be seen by any one who will examine the beautiful specimen named Her Majesty in my collection.

The preceding, I think, abundantly shows the way in which variegation is transmitted from one generation of plants to another; also that although it may not appear in the first, second, or third generation, it may in the fourth or fifth. This, I think, goes far to prove that variegation in plants is a disease.

In a future paper I will describe the results of some experiments I have now in hand. They will, I am sure, prove very interesting. I have inoculated some strong-growing plants with pieces of several kinds of both Golden and Silver Tricolor Pelargoniums. It will be curious to note what will be the result—whether they will be perpetuated singly or not by the plant, and what the effect on its flowers may be, and, above all, how the progeny will be affected.

I think I have stated enough to show that our old variegated Pelargoniums originated from sports, and that from them the numerous varieties now in cultivation have been perpetuated. I will now leave the subject to be dealt with by some of our scientific gentlemen, and hope they may be able to find out the causes of variegation.—J. Wills.