Pelargonium Profile - All Those Lemons
by Wayne L. Handlos PhD
People are always impressed when they first smell the leaves of lemon-scented pelargoniums.
The fragrance is so fresh and sharp, one must be impressed. For a long time, I thought there
was only one lemon-scented geranium – the well known Pelargonium crispum. It’s the plant with
small crinkled leaves. It’s also ideal for small pots and small spaces. In the Midwest in our
greenhouse, I never saw these plants bloom.
Now living in California, I’ve learned about those other lemon-scented geraniums. The most
impressive plant so far has been ‘Mabel Grey’ or P. citronella. The leaves are very sharply lobed
and toothed, quite different from P. crispum. When vigorously growing, ‘Mabel Grey’ can produce
fairly large leaves.
Since then I’ve also learned about ‘Abundance’, ‘Frensham’, ‘Citronella’ and ‘Orange Fizz’, all
of which are lemon-scented to some degree. ‘French Lace’ is a variegated leaf form ofP.
crispumbut it has no scent.
Here on the Central Coast, flowers are borne abundantly in the spring and summer, and maybe
a few throughout the year. As a group, these species have fairly large flowers. Basically they
have lavender colored petals, with a purple blotch on each of the two upper petals.
‘Frensham’ and ‘Mabel Grey’ have both produced seeds and seedlings in my garden. Root buds
are also common in the lemon-scented geraniums and can be potted up for new plants. Cuttings
can be made of all these cultivars but they may be a little slow to root.
In addition, some cultivars of Angels have lemon-scented leaves presumably because of P. crispum
in their ancestry. The following have a hint of lemon to my nose: ‘Gabriel’, ‘Madame Layal’,
‘Moon Maiden’, ‘Ruth Wiltse’, ‘Sancho Panza’, ‘Simple Sister’.
All of these varieties can be used when cooking or baking something with a lemon flavor. (See
IGS Journal, Geraniums Around the World, Spring 2006, for recipe for lemon cake served at our August meeting.)