Pelargonium: Section Ciconium
By Wayne L. Handlos, Ph.D.
Did you ever wonder about the scientific names of the plants we grow? What do they mean? Where did they come from? The scientific name consists of two parts the name of the genus and the name of the species. The genus (usually) consists of several species joined by some common characteristics. The species are those kinds of plants that are found growing wild in nature.
All of the species of plants (and animals) are given scientific names in Latin. At one time Latin was the language (lingua franca) used by the educated in the universities of Europe. As an aid to communication, it was agreed that each species should have its own scientific name. Only one name is permitted and that is the first one given which follows certain rules. It was also agreed that in printed material the scientific name is printed in italics or in typed or hand-written material, the name is underlined.
The genus Pelargonium is characterized by irregular, zygomorphic or bilaterally symmetrical flowers (they have a right and left side and in Pelargonium the two upper petals are larger than the three lower petals), a loral tube (or hypanthium) and fewer than 10 fertile stamens (most commonly five or seven). If a genus contains many species, subcategories may be useful for grouping species with certain characteristics. In the genus Pelargonium, the most common subcategories are called sections. Many of the commonly grown geraniums belong to a section called Ciconium.
Following are the names of the species in this section and the meaning of each name:
acetosum acid (taste the leaf);
acraeum dwells on the heights, i.e. mountain grower;
alchemilloides resembling Alchemilla (Ladys Mantle);
aridum referring to the appearance of dormant plants;
articulatum articulated i.e. the rhizomes have thick and thin portions;
barklyi named for Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of Cape of Good Hope;
caylae named after M. Cayla, Governor General of Madagascar where the species is native;
elongatum elongated (the upright, coconut scented geranium);
frutetorum - shrubby; inquinans polluting (staining red);
multibracteatum many bracts;
mutans changeable (has four or five petals);
peltatum leaf stalk bearing the leaf blade in an umbrella-like fashion; ivy geraniums;
lateripes leaf stalk on the side of the leaf blade; ivy geranium;
quinquelobatum five lobed (leaf);
salmoneum salmon colored (flower);
stenopetalum narrow petal;
tongaense from Tonga (an area in South Africa);
transvaalense from Transvaal (another area of South Africa);
zonale zoned (markings on the leaf);
x kewense from Kew (a spontaneous hybrid, designated by the x, found at Kew Gardens, England);
x hortorum from the garden (the hybrid cultivars of the common bedding geraniums)