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Geraniums are a great summer bedding plant. I remember visiting my local park as a child and seeing bed upon bed of geranium planted out as part of the summer bedding display. This still continues today with many high streets adorned by geraniums growing in hanging baskets or giant free standing containers.
The confusion of the names is due to the fact that both pelagoniums and geraniums are related and belong to the same family Geraniaceae. When pelagniums were first brought to Europe from South Africa they were grouped with the European Geranium as they shared many similarities. It was later found that they differ in several ways and so were separated into two distinct genus in 1789.
Today the confusion continues as many nurseries and garden centres label pelagniums as geraniums as this is what most people recognise them as. Plants sold as "Ivy Geranium", "Scented Geranium" and "Zonal Geranium" are in fact three species of pelagonium
Also known as hardy geraniums and cranebills, true geraniums are herbaceous plants with deeply divided leaves and cut symmetrical flowers. They are mounding in habit with long slender stems emerging from a central core and fibrous roots.
The flowers have five identically shaped and sized petals and ten fertile stamens. Geraniums are named after the shape of the seed pod, which are curled enabling them to be flung from the parent plant to disperse them.
Geraniums prefer a cooler climate than pelagoniums and because they are herbaceous plants and die down in winter they they can tolerate our colder weather.
Pelargoniums are a group of evergreen and tender perennials and occur naturally almost entirely within South Africa. They are adapted to summer drought and have thick, succulent stems and hairy leaves. Often used as colourful summer bedding, these half hardy plants require protection from the frost.
Pelargoniums have bilaterally symmetrical flowers made up from five petals, of which the upper two differ in shape and size from the lower three. They have ten stamens but only up to seven are fertile.
Pelargoniums are so called because their seedpods resemble the beak of a stork (Pelar means stork). Seeds have a feathered end that enables seeds to float away on the breeze.
There are six distinct groups of pelagoniums including:
- Zonal: Mainly derived from P. inquinans and P. zonale these upright, bushy, succulent-stemmed perennials are grown for their single or double flowers and attractive foliage.
- Regal: These are bushy evergreen perennials and shrubs with rounded leaves, sometimes lobed or partially toothed. They produce single rarely double flowers in shades of mauve, pink, purple or white.
- Angel: Mostly derived from P. crispum these plants are similar to regals but are more compact and bushy.
- Ivy-leaved: These are trailing, evergreen perennials with stiff, ivy shaped fleshy leaves and a single or double flowers.
- Scented-leaved: Cultivated for their scent, these shrubby evergreen perennials and shrubs and there leaves are often distinctly lobed, toothed, incised or variegated.
- Unique: These include shrubby evergreen perennials that do not fall into the above categories.
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