A Geranium By Any Other Name: Pelargoniums vs. Geraniums

Geraniums and Pelargoniums are both part of a beautiful flower family. While these two species are both part of the Geraniaceae family—much like families today—they could not be more different.

Find out what makes these plants unique and why they are so often confused.

Pelargoniums vs. geraniums (1)

geraniums vs. pelargoniums (1)Geranium—The true geranium

This is considered the true geranium. They are sometimes referred to as “hardy geraniums” or “cranesbills”. This is where our friend Rozanne fits in. Hardy geraniums give so much to gardens and require very little in return.

Geraniums are perennials and come back each year. Flowers will return after a dormant winter to bloom again without being replanted. They can tolerate shade and heat and produce beautiful symmetrical blooms that are low maintenance. They make great ground cover, container flowers and fillers in garden beds.

pelargonium vs. geranium (1)Pelargonium

Pelargoniums can be thought of as the geranium cousin. Though they are often called geraniums, that is not correct. They are annual flowers that are sold for one season’s use. While showy and beautiful, their petals are unsymmetrical and they don’t stand up well to frost and do best in an exposed, sunny location.

One easy way to distinguish between the two is to check it’s winter survival skills. If the flower survives outside during the winter months (with a little care – see our wintering tips here), it is a geranium. If it seems to suffer even with proper attention, it’s probably a pelargonium.

Other family names and what they mean

Much like families give one another nicknames, geraniums have acquired some nicknames along the way. Don’t let the terms “cranesbill” or “hardy geranium” confuse you. These are both other names for the true geranium.

pelargoniums vs. geraniums - scented (1)Scented, Ivy, and Zonal Geraniums—Oh My!

There are also other plants that are labeled “Scented Geranium”, “Ivy Geranium”, and “Zonal Geranium”. These are all three different species of pelargonium.

Scented geraniums

What these flowers lack in looks, they make up in smell. True to their name, these flowers carry delicious scents that vary from rose to lemon to chocolate mint or apple. Stop and smell the geraniums, er pelargoniums.

Ivy geraniums

Like the name implies, these flowers have ivy-like leaves that can grow several feet long. They look beautiful cascading down baskets or can be trained to climb a trellis.

Zonal geraniums

Generally used for one season, these are grown from cuttings. Flowers are doubled and frilly but produce no seeds.

So as you can see, there is a lot in a name. An outdoor space that has both true geraniums and pelargoniums can offer a beautiful display of diverse blooms. Don’t let all the nicknames confuse you when deciding which type of flower you will plant. You can never go wrong with the true hardy geranium (cranesbill), Rozanne.