April 29 2021
I first learned the difference between geraniums and pelargoniums when I saw our native (and delightfully named) Sticky Geranium. The genus name Geranium comes from the Greek word ‘geranos’ which means crane, because the long slender pointed seed pods resemble the bill of a crane. Thus the common name Cranesbill or Storksbill. Sticky geraniums are pretty easy to spot with their bright pinkish purple five petaled flowers and those long sharply pointed seed capsules. Interestingly, the lines on the petals reflect ultra-violet light, landing strips for the bees. Nature is so incredible.
Now, as for those pelargoniums, those are the ones that your grandmother grew on the windowsill and someone in the 17th century mistakenly called them geraniums and the name stuck. They are a different genus-genus being the next division after family, a family can hold a wide variety of plants as in apples and roses are both members of the rose family but separate genus. When you read the Latin names of plants, you are reading the genus and species names.
True geranium flowers have five symmetrical petals and are hardy outside in our cold climate. Pelargoniums have two upright petals and three downward facing petals, they are not winter hardy. Note-scented and ivy leaf geraniums are also pelargoniums. There are many colors of geraniums (the real ones), purple, blue, magenta, pink, and white. They are very easy to grow and bloom for a long time.
Every time I find a new geranium, I just have to buy it, but my all time favorite is named ‘Biokovo’ after a range of mountains in Croatia. Horticulture magazine states that Biokovo is a naturally occurring hybrid found, named, and propagated by a Dr. Hans Simon and the Missouri Botanical Garden says it was hybridized by Dr. Helen Keizer of the Cambridge Botanical Garden, thus the species name cantabrigiense meaning from Cambridge. Both? Whatever it’s origins, it is a star in my gardens, growing along my front sidewalk with it’s white to pale pink flowers with darker pink stamens rising in a cloud above the foliage. It was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 2015.
I also read that it has aromatic foliage, but it hadn’t occurred to me to get down on my knees to smell the leaves. Now I shall. One thing delving into all the stories behind the plants in my gardens has given me is a renewed sense of wonder and awe for the tiny miracles that surround us every day. All we have to do is look.
Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’, zone 4-8, 10-12” tall, 12-18” wide, sun to part shade