America’s favorite bedding and container plant, the ubiquitous geranium is getting its year in the sun. The National Garden Bureau has named 2012 “The Year of the Geranium.” Since the 1920s, the non-profit National Garden Bureau has been promoting the joys of home gardening through public awareness and education. This year, the bureau has turned its spotlight on an old-fashioned favorite and much-loved American classic, the geranium.
Geranium Myths and Misunderstandings
What most home gardeners do not realize is that the flowers we commonly call “geraniums,” both Seed Geraniums and Zonal Geraniums, are not actually Native American geraniums but rather pelargoniums that hail from South Africa. True North American geraniums are a hardy herbaceous perennial with small, single blossoms dotting a mound of green foliage. Known variously as Cranesbill, Cranesbill geranium, wild geranium and alum root, native geraniums were used as a medicinal herb by Native Americans. Although we call them Seed Geraniums, the cheerful, large-headed flowers that grace our garden beds today and take star billing in front porch and patio container plantings across America are actually pelargoniums.
History of Geraniums
The nomenclature error harkens back to the 17th century when botany was still an emerging science. Plant collectors of the era typically classified plants by appearance, basing their decisions largely on the shape of a plant’s fruit and leaves. Similar appearance resulted in geraniums and pelargoniums being lumped together. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1700s that French botanist L’Heritier would reclassify the plants as two distinct genus of the same family. The distinction was not universally accepted, however; and the error in nomenclature was perpetuated by popular garden writers of the time.
For help keeping your garden of geraniums and other beautiful plants in tip-top shape, check out our garden clean up tips.