Photo: Nemo's great uncle (flickr)
Geraniums are popular plants, grown as annuals in the Midwest. Yet this plant is not really a member of the genus “geranium.” It belongs to the genus “pelargonium.”
The confusion about its name is because pelargonium plants were first taken to England from South Africa early in the 17th century. They resembled wild geraniums that grew in Europe and so were first thought to belong to the genius “Geranium.” True wild woodland geraniums have seedpods that resemble cranes bills, and we know them today as the mat-forming perennials called “Cranesbills.”
The South African Pelargonium , is a more upright plant 18 to 24 inches high with larger leaves that are scented and lobed. They have been hybridized so that now they produce large clusters of flowers on stiff stems in luscious colors. They need full sun, moderate watering and fertilizer throughout the growing season. Oil from the leaves has been used for perfume.
Some gardeners enjoy collecting as many scented varieties as they can find. Gertrude Stein said, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” However all plants we call geraniums are not geraniums; some are really pelargoniums. That sounds poetic too.