In my last post, I had pointed out that the plants which we call ‘geraniums’ are actually pelargoniums. These two plants belong to the same family but geraniums and pelargoniums have very distinct differences. Pelargoniums are indigenous to South Africa and were probably brought to England before 1600. The English gardeners thought that these plants were just varieties of the hardy-geraniums and thus the world started to call pelargoniums ‘geraniums’. In 1789, a man named Charles L’Héritier made a distinction between them but the confusion still exists to this day and may never be corrected.
Pelargonium is a group of flowering plants that has about 200 species. They may be perennials (plants that lives for more than 2 years), succulents (plants that retain or store more water than normal), or shrubs (plants that look like trees but are smaller in size). Pelargoniums are called ‘storks-bill’ in America as against the name ‘cranes-bill’ given to geraniums but for the same reason. A seed pod of pelargoniums looks like a stork’s bill. I’ve included photos of a crane’s bill and a stork’s bill just for that sake.
Pelargoniums are divided into 8 group. I will try to be as brief and clear as I can.
1) Zonal pelargoniums/ Pelargonium x hortorum/Common pelargoniums/ Storks-bill/ fish or horseshoe geraniums: These plants are bushy, have succulent stems and are best as bedding plants. They are called ‘zonal’ because the round leaves of most of these pelargoniums have zones or patterns in the center. There are supposed to be hundreds of these zonal pelargoniums thanks to the hybrids. The traditional colors of this group of pelargoniums are red, salmon, violet, white or pink in single or double blooms.
2) Regal geranium/ Martha Washington Geranium/ Pelargonium x domesticum: These perennials have woody stems with round leaves that are sometimes wrinkled. This group of pelargoniums are mostly grown for their large and bright flowers and are also referred to as ‘show-pelargoniums’. Their flowers rarely come in double. The traditional colors are mauve, pink, purple or white
3) Angel pelargoniums: This group is a cross of Regal and another pelargonium called P. crispum. These plants are bushy and small with small flowers and do best in baskets. The traditional colors are lavender and pink and the two upper petals of its flower are often darker in color than the three lower petals. Their small leaves may be serrated and the petals ruffled.
4) Ivy-leaved pelargoniums/ Pelargonium peltatum: This type of geranium has long thin stems with smooth leathery or waxy ivy shaped leaves and grows as a flowing vine. Their flowers may be single or double and even come in stripes. They are ideal for hanging baskets and containers.
5) Scented-leaved pelargoniums/ Pelargonium domesticum: These perennials are shrubby and are more preferred for their leaves which emits the scent of the plant. These leaves may be rounded, lacy or serrated and the flowers themselves are less showy and small. Some scents that this group of pelargoniums produce are lemon, rose, mint, strawberry, peach, pineapple, apple, nutmeg, clove/cinnamon, coconut, and ginger. The leaves are used to make tea, perfumes, and potpourris.
6) Unique pelargoniums: This group of plants are hardy and woody with medium-sized flowers and lobed or divided leaves which are scented. The flowers tend are usually veined with a darker color and comes in red, rose, and pink spectrum. The perennials tend to flower better as the plant grows older but a good pruning is required every year.
7) Species pelargoniums: These pelargoniums are the true breeds. They are those that are found growing wild in their natural habitat and have not been corrupted by crossing or mixing with others. They are the ‘daddy’ of all the other pelargoniums.
8) Species hybrid pelargoniums: This is the category of pelargoniums that have been produced by crossing two different species of pelargoniums.