Documents: Regional Gardens (Canada) - West Coast:

by Marilyn Holt
November 15, 1999

Since I started this mail order business, I've received numerous requests for pelargonium seeds for varieties such as the fancy leaf, dwarf, stellars, scented leaf, etc. When I tell people you have to vegetatively propagate them because they don't come 'true' from seed, there is a long pause. Either they don't believe me, or they don't know what I'm talking about so I decided to try and clarify this in order for others to understand.

What is a hybrid? A hybrid is the result of pollinating one specific plant with the pollen of another genetically different plant. While a hybrid can occur by chance (by bees, birds, the wind, the rain, etc.) you also get seedlings - by chance. A hybridizer however, specifically selects parent plants with characteristics they want passed down to the seed children. i.e. One parent plant could be a plant that has a compact growing habit and a lovely leaf but the flowers leave a lot to be desired. The other parent plant has the most beautiful large double flowers of deep, velvety red but the plant is lanky. The hybridizer, by choosing these two parent plants is trying to get a compact plant with great leaves and with double, large flowers of deep, velvety red - the seeds will have the genetic characteristics from both parents.

The seedlings from this cross are F1 hybrids (F1 stands for "first filial"). These seeds will produce plants that are very uniform in plant habit, and carry a combination of traits from the parent plants. Please remember though, that even though you've crossed the plants once and collected the seeds from that single cross, when you sow the seeds you're going to get a mixed bag - no two seedlings will be the same, they'll be different in some way. As an example, take a large family with four children. Both parents are the same for each child but not all four children will be identical although they may resemble each other, so too with plants.

If I go out to the patio in the summer and collect seeds from my pelargoniums, I don't know what will come from sowing the seed - who knows which pelargoniums they were crossed with? I WILL NOT get a duplicate of the plant I collected the seed from, but will get a cross between the seed parent and the pollen parent.

When you buy seed of pelargoniums such as 'Orbit' to name one series, these are also called F1 hybrids. They have been put through an intense breeding program, but the seed company only guarantees you'll get the plant true from seed for just one generation. In other words, if you collect seed from one of these pelargoniums after they have finished blooming, you won't get the exact plant the second time around. To date you will only find seed available for single flowered pelargoniums, for some reason they are having a problem getting seed to come 'true' for doubles. Also, the seed pelargoniums available are extremely bad about dropping flower petals. At the growers, the buds are now sprayed with some type of silversulphate to help the flowers not to shatter (fall apart and drop petals), but once you've had them in your yard for a few weeks, and new buds have formed, these new non-sprayed flowers will shatter.

In order to get the EXACT plant, you have to propagate it vegetatively, i.e. take cuttings. This is the only way to ensure that you will have a true copy of the plant. I guess you could call it 'cloning'. In one aspect you get the plant quicker, only the time it takes to root, but in another aspect, one plant only produces a few cuttings each year so it would not be as prolific as sowing a packet of seeds. The plus side however is that you can get the stunning tri-colours, the doubles, the stellars, etc. from vegetative propagation.

Some of the varieties of pelargoniums date back to the late 1700's and 1800's, and records of what was used to hybridize them have been lost. There is no way to exactly reproduce these plants by seed. Also, a lot of the pelargoniums available are 'sports' (where Mother Nature changes either the flower colour or the leaf colour, or the shapes in some different way). These have not been hybridized, so how can you get seed from them that will be the same as the parent plant? Not possible, the only way to reproduce that EXACT plants is - by propagation.

by Marilyn Holt of Holt Geraniums, 34465 Hallert Rd., Abbotsford, B.C., V3G 1R3


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