Geraniums and Pelargoniums

Geraniums: Are mostly herbaceous clumping perennials, thriving in a cool climate. Geranium comes from the Greek word ‘geranos’ for crane. The fruit has a beak that resembles a crane’s bill. Some well-behaved disease-resistant examples are the lovely geranium endressii, geranium macrorrhizum, geranium sanguineum and the voluptuous geranium incanum.

Centuries ago plant hunters brought back a new species to Europe from South Africa. The flowers looked like the local geranium species, so they are erroneously called geranium. They were later reclassified as pelargoniums.

Pelargoniums: have five petals, but there are often two upper ones that are larger and colored or marked differently form the lower ones-many varieties have semi-double or double flowers-their leaves come in a variety of shapes. They come from warmer regions, most have aromatic leaves. Their fruit also has a beak, thought to be more like a stork.  ‘Pelargos’ is Greek for stork. Pelargonium hortorum, the regular Zonal geranium, grows well in containers or beds and needs six hours of sun and protection from strong winds. The soil should be well-drained and watered on a regular basis. Pelargonium peltatum, the ivy geranium is much tougher, with ivy-shaped fleshy leaves. It’s great for hanging baskets, window boxes, covering retaining walls and hillsides. It can tolerate drier conditions in the summer and wetter conditions in the winter as well as salty coastal winds and sandy soils. Pelargonium domesticum, the Regal or Martha Washington geranium, has serrated leaves and often bi-color blossoms. In warm weather plants should be watered deeply once a week.

Scented geraniums are amazing. Pelargonium graveolens, pelargonium crispum, pelargonium  capitatum and pelargonium fragrans have smaller blossoms but intense fragrant foliage. They are good for entrance ways, along paths and seating areas. The leaves can be used for potpourri, tea, cooking and a stress-relieving soak in the tub. Pelargonium tomentosum (intoxicating!) can even be used in part-shade as a sprawly ground cover.

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