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Geranium vs Pelargonium – What’s the difference?

There has been much confusion over the beloved hardy Geranium and it’s relative the Pelargonium. Although we are often lead to believe that there is no real difference between the two, we couldn’t be more mistaken. The two varieties couldn’t be more different, noticeably in their growth, appearance and seed dispersal technique. Although they are apart of the same family, Geraniaceae that’s about all they have in common.

The first recorded species of Pelargonium to be cultivated was P.Triste which is native to South Africa. It was bought over by ship to Leiden Botanical Gardens before 1600 and made it’s way to the UK in 1631 when an English gardener bought some seeds in Paris and introduced it to England.  However the species was not recognized as any different from a Geranium and this is where the confusion was created. It was only much later in the 1700’s that the two were officially classed as individuals.

Geranium Characteristics..

Hardy Geraniums, also known as Cranesbills, which is given due to the shape of many varieties fruit capsule or seed pod that resembles the beak of a Crane. Seeds are dispersed when the pod springs open sending seeds off to a fair distance.

Geraniums are often referred to as Hardy Geraniums as they can with stand cold frosty temperatures however not all geraniums are hardy. The flower is quite symmetrical in that is has five similar shaped petals that result in an open flat flower. Their growth is low and wide with long, thin stems and is often used as ground cover.

Pelargonium Characteristics..

Unlike the hardy geraniums, Pelargoniums do not survive in areas prone to frost. The seed pods do not resemble a crane’s bill and seeds are dispersed by wind. Although Pelargoniums also have 5 petals, they differ in that the top two petals are a different shape and size to the rest giving a more asymmetrical appearance and grow in clusters.

They are tall growers  and stems can become woody after time, with some varieties being able to reach up to 6ft in height such as Caroline Schmidt. They come in a range of different colours in both flower and leaves and some have very pungent scents such as peppermint, apple and lemon.

Now we can see that actually the two are quite significantly different in many ways, so be sure that the next time you refer to either a Geranium or Pelargonium, that it is the correct genus

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