As the innovators of callused geranium cuttings, Syngenta Flowers truly understands the unique value they offer of quicker turns, lower production costs and strong to the finish. To introduce something new or different is to be innovative. Having bred geraniums for both seed and vegetative portfolios for more than thirty years, Syngenta Flowers, Inc. influences innovation. Syngenta Flowers has elevated breeding geraniums to another level by customizing them to the needs of both the grower and consumer. Crop Group Lead Mitch Hanes recalls the project that unveiled the hybrid geranium.
“We were working at what we call the ‘splash patterns’ in the flowers — integrating the colors from ivy geraniums into zonal geraniums,” Hanes says. “That was the goal — not developing an interspecific hybrid that would turn out to be a ‘super geranium.’”
The discovery of the interspecific hybrid geranium was not an intentional one. The breeding efforts of this time were meant to cross the colors from the ivy geraniums into zonal geraniums. Fifteen years later Calliope Dark Red was created and became one of the best-selling geraniums on the market. Although not everything went as planned, the results proved to be a game-changer in the geranium breeding business.
“When you work in conventional breeding, you’ll end up with hundreds of seeds to work with. With interspecific crosses you might get five seeds you can grow out and select from. And, as a result, the seedlings are stressed and weak,” Hanes says. As the team continued to work on flower color, “We got really excited when we realized we were developing germplasm that was unique to us and that nobody else had.” As they crossed and backcrossed, “we saw that we could further strengthen the benefits of the ivies and zonals, beyond color. You get other ideas while you’re working, realizing things; see potential. It’s exciting!”
The newest and most versatile series of Calliope breeding is the Calliope Medium series. These varieties offer a more controlled habit with superior performance over traditional zonal geraniums. This series has large semi-double flowers with intense color for retail and consumer appeal. The original hybrid geranium, the Calliope Large series, has unmatched color brilliance with best-in-class garden performance. This series is a winner of numerous industry awards and continues to be the optimum choice for large to premium container and basket programs. Both series of Calliope Medium and Calliope Large are easy to grow with low maintenance that ensures consumer success.
A new class of vegetative propagated hybrid geranium was created bringing to market a series of five colors led by the tremendously popular variety Calliope Dark Red. Within a year, Calliope Dark Red became the number one selling vegetative geranium from Syngenta Flowers. Calliope Dark Red is easily recognized by the intense color that sets it apart from all other red geraniums. In addition to the red color, Calliope geraniums are notable for their large flower size, a tolerance for lower soil pH, their ability to grow in both shaded and sunny areas, and the spreading nature of the plant. This growth habit makes it useful in baskets or containers, in addition to in-ground planting. With the addition of new colors with the same great plant attributes Calliope is known for, this series will continue to lead the hybrid geranium market.
“We can see the progress being made – the strengths of each plant becoming apparent in the crosses,” Hanes says. For example, “It took about 25 crosses to end up with Calliope Dark Red.”
The first showing of these new geraniums was during California Pack trials back in 2008, and the first shipments to retailers were in fall of 2009.
“Up until then, red geraniums were kind of orange-ish,” Hanes says. “This one is a deep, dark red. You can recognize it from the street.”
Hanes says consumers love Calliope because it grows in containers and in the landscape all summer in full sun to partial shade.
“The flowers won’t burn and that’s been a big problem with red geranium varieties,” he says.
Last year Calliope Crimson Flame was made commercially available in the United States. It has vibrant red petals with hot pink accents.
“I’m always looking forward to developing and pushing out new material,” Hanes says. “There is already so much to look forward to in the near future.”