News and Events

Botanical Buzz - The Pelargonium

Monday, February 09, 2015

The Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden is a marvellous place to meet up with old friends especially those of the botanical variety.

One such familiar garden friend is the pelargonium.  The Pelargonium genus includes about 200 species of perennials, succulents, and shrubs.  They are often called geraniums but Geranium is the correct botanical name of a separate genus of related plants.

The confusion arose because the eighteenth century Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus included all the species in one genus, Geranium, but they were later separated into two genera by Charles L’Héritier in 1789. Both genera, Pelargonium and Geranium belong to the family Geraniaceae.

Geraniums and pelargoniums can be told apart by the shape of their flowers. Geranium flowers have five very similar petals, and are thus radially symmetrical (actinomorphic), whereas pelargonium flowers have two upper petals which are different from the three lower petals, so that the flowers have a single plane of symmetry (zygomorphic).

The name pelargonium comes from the Greek pelargós (stork), because the seed head looks like a stork's beak.  There are pelargonium species native to parts of Africa, Australia, Asia Minor and New Zealand. Most of the pelargonium plants cultivated in Europe and North America have their origins in South Africa.

There are many cultivars and the very attractive flowers are available in white, and many different shades of pink, purple and red.  There is also a wide variety of scented leaf pelargoniums including those with lemon, lime, cinnamon and peppermint scented leaves. 

The rose-scented foliage of Pelargonium graveolens is important in the perfume industry. Pelargonium distillates and absolutes, commonly known as "scented geranium oil" are sometimes used to supplement or adulterate expensive rose oils.

Some pelargoniums have edible flowers and some scented-leafed pelargoniums can be used to flavour jellies, cakes, ice cream and other dishes.

Re-acquaint yourself with this wonderful old friend in the Sensory Gardens of the Dubbo Regional Botanic Garden.

                                                                                                                                By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan