When we think of geraniums, we usually envision the red or pink annual plants that bloom throughout the summer in North America. But these bedding geraniums are actually a member of the pelargonium family. True geraniums are winter-hardy and are often called by the common name ‘cranesbill’.
Both exhibiting five-petaled blooms, the geranium and the pelargonium were once classified as the same genus of plants. However, after careful study they were given separate categories. While the overlapping names can be confusing, these plants each stand on their own as having a place of honor in the garden.
With hundreds of cultivars to choose from, bedding geraniums are popular for their bold red, pink, white, and orange hues. Requiring full sun for optimal growth, they bloom all summer and are a common focal point in flower beds and potted arrangements.
The geranium is the customary gift to celebrate the fourth wedding anniversary. It’s easy to see why, as the warm-hued red and pink flowers and soft, fuzzy leaves are a reminder of romantic love.
Zonal geraniums are among the most common varieties sold in the United States. Native to Africa, these geraniums get their name from the zone of red or purple coloration usually found on the middle of each leaf.
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If you live in an area with little rainfall, look for ivy-leaf geraniums. A modified succulent, the cuticle of the leaf has evolved to conserve water in dry regions. The ivy geranium is also well-liked in hanging planters, as the vine-like leaves trail gracefully out of the pot.
The true geranium, or cranesbill, is a family that contains over 400 varieties of plants. With pink, purple, or blue flowers, these plants can be annual, biennial, or perennial. Cranesbill may be called hardy geraniums to distinguish them from pelargonium, but not all species are winter-hardy in temperate areas.
Some cranesbill are propagated by seeds that burst out of their pods when they are fully ripe. In some species, these seeds pods resemble the long neck and bill of a crane, giving the family its common name.
Other varieties may be divided by splitting rhizomes or bulbs that grow from established plants. Plants should be divided and replanted in the spring or autumn. Unlike their bedding geranium cousins, cranesbill prefers a somewhat shady spot.
Pelargonium is a broad family that encompasses many cheerful flowers. Whether you choose bedding geraniums or hardy cranesbill, these plants are a lovely gift for a spring birthday, graduation, or Mother’s Day. From annuals to perennials to succulents, there’s a member of the geranium family sure to please everyone.