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Dark leaved varieties of Geranium pratense


This blog is based on an article submitted to the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society Journal in 2013.

Even the smallest collection of hardy geraniums will usually include Geranium pratense, a common wildflower in meadows across northern Europe and England. Most varieties of the Meadow Cranesbill will have the typical blue flower, but also seen here at Ontario garden centres is the white and blue streaked ‘Splish Splash’. Lately many new dark leaved varieties with such names as ‘Black Beauty’, ‘Hocus Pocus’, and ‘Okey Dokey’ are catching on with hardy plant enthusiasts. The foliage may be described as dark bronzy green, reddish brown, or even plum purple, depending on the variety, although even the very darkest foliage tends to lighten a bit as the plant matures.

I was certainly no different than any other geranium addict, and started to collect whatever dark variety I could find. By 2011, I had several of the named varieties scattered around the garden.

I started a new bed in a back corner of the garden so I could grow and compare the varieties side-by-side. I needed to trim back shrubs and remove turf for a new bed.

In the first year, I was surprised by a new introduction, ‘Midnight Clouds’, which shot up head and shoulders above the others. It seems to me that the darker the foliage, the slower growing and more compact the plant.

‘Midnight Clouds’, is a plant with the dark foliage, but the flowers are white – a pleasant change from the usual blue. ‘Midnight Clouds’ is from Dutch hybridizer, Luc Klinkhamer. Most of the blue flowered varieties have very similar flowers. The red veins on ‘Midnight Blues’ does give the colour a warmer tinge. Although another new one, ‘Midnight Blues’ is not directly related to ‘Midnight Clouds’, it is from Thierry Delabroye.

These interesting forms began back in the early 1970s when a San Francisco nurseryman, Victor Reiter, discovered a Geranium pratense in his garden that had much darker foliage. Eventually through careful selection a seed strain known as The Victor Reiter Group was created. The original Victor Reiter plant was also micro-propagated and these were known as ‘Victor Reiter Jr.’ The confusion begins!

A typical Victor Reiter Group plant will show the classic genetic principles of Mendel if the plant is selfed and you compare the resulting seedlings. You will observe that about 25% of the seedlings will revert to forest green foliage, and 50% will exhibit the dark bronzy green of the Victor Reiter Group, and the other 25% will often show even darker purple foliage. This darker group is the one that many new selections are from, as well as those sold under the names of Midnight Reiter Group and Purple Haze. Many of these are seed strains and not necessarily clones of named selections.

Many growers are continuing to select and name new cultivars. There is obviously great confusion regarding keeping these varieties sorted out and many feel that it may be hopelessly confused in the commercial trade. If you are growing from seed, it is better to simply use the appropriate group name for the seedlings. If you want to be more specific, be sure to specify that they are ‘Whatever’ SEEDLINGS or write the name as ex ‘Whatever’ so people know it is not a true clone of that original selection.

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Loved your blog.

7 Dec, 2014


Hi John ...
lots of useful info. there. Thank you :o)

8 Dec, 2014


Fascinating stuff. I have a Midnight Reiter but had no idea that is simply a group name. Your Midnight Clouds is astonishing - a beanstalk of a geranium!
I like Black Beauty - what a dainty one!

8 Dec, 2014


Love these BL - thanks. Like Sue (Stera), I also have a Midnight Reiter. A few years ago I found Black Beauty at Wisley, and am delighted to see that it has seeded itself around: a real treat!

8 Dec, 2014


Amazing. Thank you John.
Nice to read some interesting news out of Canada.
The media output is so depressing, I switch it off.

9 Dec, 2014


A great read.

9 Dec, 2014

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