PELARGONIUMS FOR BEGINNERS
By Wayne Handlos, Ph.D.
We are not born with a knowledge of this group of plants. Following is a short-hand approach to the
major types of Pelargoniums.
use in much of the US and Europe. The leaves are roundish and some have a darker, c-shaped
band in the leaf. Flowers are borne in dense clusters on long stalks. They may be single (5 petals),
semi-double or double. They come in a variety of colors from white to dark red with an infinite number of shades
of pink, orange, scarlet. This favorite group has given rise to a variety of additional types including speckled and
striped petals (bird’s egg, New Life and paint-box types), forked petals and leaves (stellars), rolled petals (
poinsettia types), etc.
or grow up through surrounding vegetation. They are particularly well suited to growing in hanging
baskets or raised planters. The leaves are often smooth and shiny and have 3-5 large teeth or
pointed lobes. The flower color range is similar to that of the zonal geraniums.
with a whitish or yellowish margin) they qualify as fancy leaf geraniums. The greens may come
in various shades, giving rise to yellow, chartreuse or “golden” leaves as well as the very dark green found in
many recent cultivars. The most colorful types are found amongst the zonal geraniums where the dark colored
band is superimposed on the green and white patterns in the leaf.
Regal or Martha Washington Geraniums. These have the large, often-patterned flowers borne
in few-flowered clusters. The leaves are usually coarsely toothed and may be pleasantly scented.
The petals may be ruffled or fringed and may be quite gaudily colored and patterned.
secrete scented compounds (usually called essential oils). Many of the species geraniums are naturally scented
but breeders have crossed various types and selected some for essential oil production. This is particularly true
for the “rose scented geraniums” whose oil is produced in commercial quantities and used in the perfume and
cosmetics industries. Depending on which chemicals predominate, the scents are variously described as rose,
lemon, lime, citrus, nutmeg, peppermint, apple, champagne, cinnamon, coconut, pineapple, etc. The less
pleasantly scented leaves are referred to as “pungent.”
Angel Geraniums. Angels are in many ways miniature versions of the regal geranium although the
lower colors are not as spectacular or varied as those of the regals.
Species Geraniums. These are the plants as found in nature. They are adapted to diverse soil and climatic
conditions. They vary in habit and stature; some are quite unruly while others are of large stature. Many are adapted
to survival in the deserts of South Africa so may be tuberous, succulent or spiny.