For years there has been considerable confusion over what a hardy geranium really is. The annual ‘geranium,’ whose real name is pelargonium, has often been referred to as a geranium, when in reality, they couldn’t be more different.
Where did the confusion come from? When pelargoniums were brought over from South Africa they were thought to be the same as the geranium, and thus were accidentally misclassified, a mistake that wasn’t rectified until the 1700s. Unfortunately, the reclassification wasn’t widely accepted until much later.
While geraniums and pelargoniums are related, both being members of the Geraniaceae family, there are various distinct differences between the two in, growth, appearance, and seed dispersal technique.
One of the biggest differences between a hardy geranium and a pelargonium is that one can live through frosts and the other cannot. True hardy geraniums are perennial plants that come back after being dormant over winter, and don’t require a new planting. The hardy geraniums are also referred to as cranesbills. The name comes from the shape of its seed pod, which resembles the beak of a crane. The cranesbill disperses its seeds by way of the beak popping open and shooting the seeds out some distance. Of course, in the case of Geranium Rozanne, she does not produce seeds, and therefore does not reproduce herself around your garden.
Rozanne, in common with other cranesbills, has five symmetrical petals, all the same size. Each bush boasts a multitude of long thin stems, giving it a wispy and wild appearance when in bloom. She sprawls low and wide, and can even be used as groundcover. Many people who plant Rozanne in a container prefer to give her a ‘haircut’ mid-growing season to clean up her appearance.
What is a Pelargonium?
In areas prone to frosts, pelargoniums die in the winter and so most people treat them as an annual, replacing the plants every year.
Pelargoniums also have a seed pod, but it doesn’t resemble a crane’s beak. Seed dissemination is accomplished when seeds are picked up and carried away on the wind.
Also sporting five petals, just like the cranesbill, pelargoniums differ in that the two upper petals are a different shape and size from the rest, giving it an asymmetrical appearance. Unlike the true hardy geranium, which generally lays low and wide, pelargoniums have tall stems that become woody as they age. Some can even reach six feet in height when grown in their natural, frost free, habitat.
It’s hard to believe how things got so confused, when it’s clear that the geranium and pelargonium are different in so many ways. They are both beautiful, and look stunning in a window box, but that’s where the similarities end.