May 1, 2006

Africa's Rarest Pelargoniums

Pelargonium incrassatum

The genus Pelargonium is largely South African, with more that 80 percent of the 270 species found on the continent. Without going into the details of the differences between the name Geranium and Pelargonium, for those newer to plants and taxonomy, a gentle reminder that Pelargonium, what I am writing about here,is the genus encompasing the red 'geranium' of Memorials and windowboxes,'and must not be confused with the Genus Geranium, the familiar and trendy Cranesbills, the hardy garden perennial. The species you will see here are about as far away one can get from the red geranium from the cemetary and still considered a Pelargonium

Pelargonium auritum

Of the 270 species of Pelargonium, many are diverse whihc we are already familiar with, such as the scented geraniums, but by far the most unknown and the most interesting are these, the geophytic and tuberous forms, collectively known as the Section Hoarea Pelargoniums.

P. crithmifolium

These curious Pelargoniums look nothing like thier over hybridized cousins, yet they still have some characteristics familiar to the eyes of the more keen gardener. I remember my mother telling me that in the 1940's they could pull up thier Red Geraniums, and hang them bare-root in the root cellar, where thier fleshy thick stems would hold water and in spring, replant them. This water-storring capability is a trait which many African plants exhibit, many Section Hoarea Pelargoniums have potato-like organs, or woody carrot-like stems, and some even have thick fleshy leaves. These are indeed some of South Africa's rarest plants, and recently becoming highly collectable amongst those who not only collect Caudex plants, but with those who like strange and unusual specimens. Generally, these are not considered pretty plants by todays garden center-supertunia-standards.

P. echinatum

A more geophytic pelargonium, which may be more "growable' for the beginner is this gem, P. echinatum. Its greyish foliage and showing blossom are practically ornamental, well, as ornamental as these species can get. It is safe to state that if you are not a coinnoisseur of plants, you may find these species a bit unattractive, "pretty' is rarely attached to any of these pelargoniums. They are the less-attractive cousins to the Geranium. My brother laughs when I show him my Section Horeas Pelargonium in the winter, with thier twisted bare thorny stems and three leaves, as I exciteldy point to a skinny thin single stem with five barelt noticable buds on it. One wonders why we are attracted to the unusual, when others clearly don't see the magic.

Pelargonium crithmifolium is another species with less noticable flowers (as if the others are showy!) but the foliage is beautifully detailed with thick bulbous stems. This is a species which can be easily grown on a sunny windowsill in the winter.

Pelargonium auritum is a true Section Hoarea species, with the classic habit of going dormant half the year, and then sending out foliage in the fall, and flowers in the spring before entering dormancy again. Teh almost black flowers and tiny, and the plant itself is no taller than six inches, as many of these Hoarea are.

If you are interested in attempting or collecting any of these noteworthy plants, a handsome collection can be started, since they are highly collectable and choice. As it is with many of these types of plants, they are very difficult to find. The rarer forms can easily be grown from seed however, and there are two very good sources for seed (and occaisionally plants), yet newer restrictions are making importing seed more difficult, I did order some this past fall, all have germinated in two weeks. Seed can be ordered from Penrock Seed, in South Africa, and , B&T World Seeds in France. Both are reliable and provide excellent fresh seed and collect responsibly.

P. echinatum spending some time in the direct spring sun. This is perhaps the closest in appearance to the more common Pelargoniums which you may know.

I encourage anyone looking for something different to try these more interesting Pelargoniums, they are completely growable indoors, yet I grow ours in a greenhouse, I had kept many species indoors in sunny windows. Other geophytic species can be found at Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut (but call them, since they do not list these on-line or in thier catalog. They carry P. echinatum and P. crithmifolim, as well as a couple other species).

P. appendiculatum is a very unusual tiny plant in the Section Horea, with denst furry leaves growing from a woody caudex stem which looks like a carrot.


  1. Love the pictures! I am blogging about scented pelargoniums at my Geranium Blog.

  2. You should check out P. cotyledonis. That's the coolest one in my opinion, a natural bonsai.

  3. Nice and interesting post. Keep in mind that you are not alone, there are many other pelargoniums freaks out there ;-)
    I love pelargoniums ... especially the scented
    one, please let me know if these are scented.


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