Pelargonium

If you’re thinking that the flower pictured above is a Geranium, you would be partly correct. Geraniums, as most of us know them, are one of the most popular flowering plants. Easy to grow, requiring little care, they add a bright spot of color to any garden. The confusing part is that scientifically, they are not Geraniums.

As with most things, it all starts with Carolus Linneaus, the man who invented the classification system for all living things. A large group of flowering plants native to South Africa was placed in the genus Geranium, in the family Geraniaceae. The flowers grew popular and were exported to many other countries, and were called Geraniums. Later, around 1789, someone realized that the flowers in that genus had major differences, and the genus was split into 4 or 5 separate genera. One continued to be called Geranium and another was named Pelargonium. I won’t go into the others, it will just confuse matters.

Geranium, the genus, contains species of hardy perennials and native wildflowers, commonly called Cranesbills. The flowers have 5 matching petals, evenly spaced. The Geraniums we know were placed in the new genus, Pelargonium. The problem was that people were already accustomed to calling these plants Geraniums. Though they officially became Pelargoniums, people refused to call them that, and stubbornly call them Geraniums, even today. To tell them apart, some say the plants in the Geranium genus are “True” Geraniums. The Pelargoniums are also called Storksbills. Sound confusing? I thought so.

Pelargoniums are very tolerant of heat and drought. In warm areas, such as zone 8 and above, they are perennials.  Here in Michigan, as in a large part of the country, they are grown as annuals. Single Pelargoniums have 5 petals also, but the upper 2 are often different in size, color or markings from the other 3 petals. Some of them are scented, but some of the scents are not pleasing to humans.  There are about 200 species of Pelargonium, but only about 20 have been used to develop the thousands of cultivars available today. Some of them are sought out for their foliage, rather than the blooms. Leaves can be velvet-textured, leathery, marked, variegated and scented.

In the garden, they prefer full sun, well drained soil and temperatures that would be comfortable to people, around 55-75 degrees. If it gets too hot or too cold, they stop producing flowers. Otherwise, most of them bloom much of the summer.  They work well in almost any situation, hanging baskets, window boxes and containers, as well as directly in the garden. Too much water, or sitting in water will cause the plant to turn yellow and possibly die. Spent flowers should be removed, as should any dry or discolored leaves. Pelargoniums like to be fertilized regularly, they are heavy feeders. Propagation is by stem cuttings, root divisions, leaf cuttings or seed. As usual, growing from seed is not always reliable.

Pelargoniums can be wintered indoors in cooler climates. Back before we had basements that were lighted and heated, you could just hang the plants from the ceiling after digging them out and knocking off the dirt. In order to do that, it must be dark, dry and cool, about 45-50 degrees.  I have several plants in containers, and I just bring them into the house before the first frost. I cut them back somewhat, and place them in a sunny window. Some of these plants have been around for several years now.

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2 Responses to “Pelargonium”

  1. Margaret Lynette Sharp Says:

    Love your photos and comments!
    Just today, I wrote an article for my blog on WordPress, talking about my childhood memories of geraniums and pelargoniums.
    Mine were the plainer, old-fashioned types, but they’re embedded in my memory as magnificent.

  2. Michael's Woodcraft Says:

    You’ve got some really beautiful geraniums! Great shots. My wife loves to grow geraniums, check out the pictures I just posted.

    Michael
    Oriental Lilies and Geraniums

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