What is a Geranium?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Geraniums are ornamental plants native to Africa and the Mediterranean. They are grown in gardens all over the world for their showy, colorful flowers and general hardiness. Geraniums are extremely drought tolerant, although they are vulnerable to frost and very cold weather. Most garden stores stock several geranium cultivars, and it is also possible to propagate geraniums from cuttings, if you happen to know someone with a particularly attractive specimen.

The term “geranium” can be a bit confusing, thanks a mix up in scientific classification. Two separate genera of plants are both known as geraniums. One is the genus Pelargoium, which includes plants which were originally classified in the genus Geranium. The plants are closely related, but they do have some subtle differences which led to the differentiation in botanical classification, such as symmetrical flowers in true geraniums. True geraniums are sometimes called hardy geraniums or cranesbills, after their distinctive seedpods. Plants in the Pelargoium genus may be known as storksbills in some regions.

Both plants have roughly round or palmate leaves and bright flowers in colors like pink and red. The geranium plant has thick, fleshy stems, and the leaves are often slightly fuzzy. Many people have also noticed the distinctive odor of geraniums; the plants are sometimes cultivated specifically for this scent, which is extremely difficult to describe but very memorable. This aromatic oil is used in flavoring and perfumes in some regions of the world.


As a general rule, geraniums will thrive in a sunny spot in relatively dry soil. If they become waterlogged, they will not do well, and the plants need to be covered in frost and cold weather so that they are not damaged. Otherwise, the fleshy stems may freeze and rot or break off. Some gardeners grow their geraniums in pots so that they can be taken inside during inclement weather. The plants also do very well in flowerboxes.

Depending on the species, a geranium plant can sometimes get quite large. The plants tend to be sprawling, rather than upright, and they make pleasing rambling borders and features. Some species may have variegated leaves or flowers, which adds some pleasant visual interest, and some cultivars are also deer resistant. Geraniums tend to take well to trimming and shaping, and the sprawling growth habit can be inhibited with timely pinching of new buds and clipping of stems.


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