April 27, 2008

Some Rare-ish Pelargoniums

Pelargonium bowkeri

Of the 230+ species of Pelargoinum, 185 are concentrated in the winter rainfal area of the south esters tip of South Africa. Pelargonium, or, what many of us know and love or loath, as "geraniums' are mostly native to South Africa, with ony a handful of species found elsewhere in the world, ( 8 in Australia, 2 on Madagascar, 2 in the near East, for instance). This odd but lovely tiny species is a native of Transkei (East South Africa) and was names by H. Bowker and documented in Curtis' Botanical Magazine in 1864, where it can be found illustrated in color.

This 'Pachycaul' type of Pelargonium ( stores water in a thickened stem), is relatively easy to grow, but perhaps impossible to find sold. I started this from seed, collected in South Africa by the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, who has sent me some seeds upon request. But here is what is different about this wild species form of Pelargonium - P. bowkeri is not a winter rainfall species, but a summer rainfall species. And, it hails not from the south western part of the cape, where most of the Pelargonium clan call home, but it instead is native to the summer rainfall areas of the northeastern Cape.

The root system is complex, composed of tuber-like swollen roots,which some growers may wish to raise out of the soil, to show off ( something that caudex growers really get into). I may try this when this four-year old seedling goes dormant again, to propagate it later this summer, but for now, we are enjoying it's rather pretty, fringed petals ( only two other species of Pelargonium have fringed petals), this was a bit of a surprise for me, since I simply purchased the seed in a lot, and never researched what it actually looked like! Surprises, can be nice! Pelargonium bowkeri makes a great addition to any collection of caudex plants ( caudiciforms) or those who collect species Pelargoniums. ( I'm sure there are plenty of both of you, right?). Ugh...I'm so wierd!

Pelargonium mollicomum

Apparently, P. mollicomum is the wild, species form of a plant which many of you know and love as the scented geranium. However, this wild form, has hardly any scent, for some reason. The scented forms known as pineapple-scented, are also sometimes listed as P. mollicomum, but the grey-green lacy foliage of this species looks nothing like a typical 'sceneted geranium', That said, you may notice that many scented geraniums have similar blossoms. I happed to like these less-thab-showy forms, and this species is a fine example of how subtle yet interesting this genus can be.


  1. Anonymous9:07 PM

    Hi There.
    Love your blog, I am very familiar with the pelargoniums you mention. A couple of notes: P. bowkeri is from the eastern Cape and the Natal midlands. I have collected it in the latter area, where it grows in rocky areas among low growing grassy vegetation, in the company of delospermas and other small plants. Generally two clones are needed for good seed set. I do not raise the tubers of mine, it is not a pachycaul plant, in nature the tuberous roots form a network underground but stems die back during the dry and sometimes frosty winter. Foliage is quite lovely, grow it in a larger pot and give good water and fertilizer when growing and see what I mean. I am not sure that the latter is P. mollicomum, this species does not have lacy foliage and the flowe clusters look too large. The pic seems to be one of the Otidia section members, maybe P. laxum. P. mollicomum is a weedy plant that seeds profusely and is a summer grower. It is not ancestral to the hybrid scented pelargonium group, these are mostly members of section Pelargonium and include such species as graveolens, denticulatum, quercefolium, etc. In my graduate work with pelargoniums at Cornell, I made many interspecific crosses and was not successful in making any with mollicomum.
    Pelargoniums are truly fascinating, and variable, even within a particular species. Glad you are enjoying them.
    plantblog: www.geraniosgarden. blogspot.com

  2. Thanks Ernie

    Funny, I was just listening to a NPR broadcast on accurate research and re-editing on blogs, and I actually thought about the idea that these 'facts' may be wrong. Lesson learned, of course....no more quick research on-line!
    The P. bowkerii info only came from a fast on-line research to see if I even had the correct plant, and see? Those 'facts' which came from a pelargonium site, we're opposite of the truth. Damn internet! OH, THE WIKIPEDIANESS OF IT ALL!!!
    I was questioning the molicomum since the tag was loose in the soil, and may have transferred - I am no expert on Pelargonium! Thanks for the note. I did have a tag for P. laxum, so perhaps.....you are correct.
    I would love to learn more about your research, which are your favorites, and why. Email me sometime at mmattus@charter.net



  3. Good blog , I found You searching for P.bowkeri ! A favourite now !

    Dirk Everaerd

  4. Matt,

    great Blog as always. We are doing a Pelargonium display in the Orangery at DBG this spring. We have P. bowkeri and it has been one of the favorites.

  5. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Great pics Matt!!
    I have grown seeds of wild P mollicomum collected in South Africa and they do smell like canned pineapple. Wild P. exhibens, also from section Chorisma, does smell like cheap hands soap). Do you know if one can propagate P mollicomum from tubers? I usually throw away lots of them when I repot the plants. Thanks. Fabian.


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