Information about plants & gardens for Brisbane & Qld




Family: Geraniaceae

Pelargoniums have an old fashioned charm, yet new cultivars are being bred all the time. There are hundreds to try, including some with striking coloured foliage.

With watering restrictions hitting hard in this state, maybe it's time for the heat- and drought-tolerant garden "geranium" to make a comeback in Queensland, especially among those gardeners wanting flowers and a fairly traditional style of garden.

What's more, pelargoniums grow very well in pots and are one among the world's most popular flowering plants for container culture.

Geranium or Pelargonium?

Local gardeners, when talking about "Geraniums", are almost certainly referring to members of the genus Pelargonium. Long ago they were included in Geranium, but today the pelargoniums have their own genus. One of the distinguishing features is that all the petals of the Geranium flower are similar and are arranged evenly around the centre. On the other hand, the individual Pelargonium flower has an uneven distribution of petals, although this may be a little difficult to observe in some garden cutivars.

Ornamental Geranium are popular among cool climate climate gardeners. On this page, however, the discussion will be about Pelargonium species and hybrids, which will be referred to simply as "pelargoniums".

Types of Pelargonium

Although there are some Australian native species, most wild species come from the African region. Collectors and hybridisers may be interested in some of the these. See the links at the bottom of this page for more detailed information on the Geraniaceae family.

Cultivated pelagoniums have developed from extensive selection and hybridisation and today there are many types. Those most commonly grown in Queensland fall into three main groups: the shrubby "zonals", the trailing "ivy leaved" and the "scented".

Zonal Pelargoniums

This is the group which is probably most familiar to Queensland gardeners. "Zonal" refers to the band of colour the leaves often exhibit. The centuries that pelargoniums have been in cultivation have given rise to many hybrids, often of uncerain parentage, hence the botanical nomenclature of P. x hortorum for the zonals, simply indicating that they are hybrids of horticultural origin.

Compared to many other flowers, they are relatively easy-care plants. Nevertheless a little attention, including judicious use of water and fertiliser, will naturally give the best results.

The somewhat fleshy stems and leaves give a hint of their to their drought tolerance. This makes them well adapted to growing in pots, providing drainage is good and they are not overwatered. (Some wild species have very succulent stems or tubers.)

They grow outdoors in Brisbane all year round, but gardeners in cold climates protect them indoors during the winters, as whole plants or as rooted cuttings. They can also used be used as bedding plants for temporary displays.

Scented Leaf Pelargoniums

This group is grown mainly for the aroma the leaves emit when brushed or crushed. An range of frangrances are represented in different species and cultivars. The overall growth form in most scenteds is somewhat like the zonals, but the leaves and flowers are usually much less flamboyant in appearence. They make a wonderful addition to a herb garden, cottage style garden, a garden for children or for the visually impaired (the leaves can have interesting tactile properties, too).

Ivy leaf Pelargoniums

These have a distinctive leaf, similar in shape to that of an ivy. The stems are thin with a trailing habit, making them well suited to hanging baskets, large containers or retaining walls that they can cascade over, or even trained up a trellis or similar support.

Other types

Another major group is the Regals (also called Martha Washingtons). They are probably best avoided by the inexperienced grower, especially in the warmer parts of Queensland because of their requirement for cool conditions.

Some hybrids are available that are intermediate between groups, e.g. between Ivy and Zonal. As breeders continue to experiment with crosses between these and other pelargoniums, new classes of plants have emerged such as the "Staphs" and "Deacons" with particular characteristics of plant habit or flower form. Browse the catalogue of a specialist pelagonium nursery and you'll find an amazing diversity of foliage and flower colours and forms.

More Online Information

The following are for general information, research and ideas - some species or cultivars referred to in links may be unavailable in Australia or unsuitable for Queensland conditions

Wildflowers of the Brisbane Ranges, a book by Clive & Merle Trigg, (Available through CSIRO publishing). The online sample pages (PDF) containing some images and notes on native Geraniaceae.

Rest of Australia
Geelong Botanic Gardens contains an Ornamental Plant Conservation Association of Australia collection of Pelargonium
Geraniums (part of The Beckingham-Steele website, Western Australia). Pictures and tips, plus some history of these plants in Australia.
Camden Park Estate and Belgenny Farm (Draft) NSW Heritage Office (information on early ornamental horticulture in Australia)
Pelargonium tetragonium The Florez Nursery blog, NSW
Pelargonium rodneyanum Australian National Botanic Gardens
Adelaide - Beaches and Bathing The Manning Index of South Australian History (references to native Geranium and Pelargonium in the coastal ecosystem)
Geranium potentilloides (Crane's Bill) Chandlers Hill Parkcare Group, Victoria
Geranium solanderi (Austral Crane's Bill) Chandlers Hill Parkcare Group, Victoria

Basic cultural information:
Geraniums for Florida University of Florida, USA
Good-looking geraniums Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture
Geranium Culture for Home Gardeners North Carolina State University
How to buy and care for geraniums Extension Service Garden Hints, Oregon State University
Geraniums (Pelargonium) University of Nebraska, USA
Geranium Clemson University, South Carolina, USA
Growing Geraniums Indoors Clemson University, South Carolina, USA
Pelargonium x hortorum Ohio State University, USA
Geraniums Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Geraniums make dramatic return Office of Agricultural Communications, Mississippi State University, USA
Growing Geraniums Backyard Gardener column, May 25, 2005. Arizona Cooperative Extension, University of Arizona
Geraniums for Kentucky Gardens University of Kentucky, USA
Pelargonium wall Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture
OPGC Quarterly Newsletter. Summer 2005. Vol. 1.3 (Includes notes on preparation and maintenance of a pelargonium display garden) Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center, Ohio State University, USA (PDF)
Geraniums shine at Jackson garden event Mississippi State University
Fertility Management for Geraniums North Carolina State University
Crops: Zonal Geranium (Greenhouse Production) Auburn University, Alabama, USA
Geranium cuttings New Mexico State University
Growing Geraniums from Seed Iowa State University of Science and Technology
Zonal Geranium - Plant of the Week (interesting note about effects of excessive heat) University of Arkansas
Overwintering geraniums (For cold climates) New Mexico State University

Ivy Geraniums Iowa State University
Alpine ivy geraniums Colorado State University

Scented Geraniums at the Horsetail Haven website (Texas, USA)
Making scents of it all Colorado State University
A Scentsory Experience: Pelargoniums: Part I Backyard Gardener column, July 28, 1999. Arizona Cooperative Extension, University of Arizona
A Scentsory Experience: Pelargoniums: Part II Backyard Gardener column, August 4, 1999. Arizona Cooperative Extension, University of Arizona
Scented Geraniums by a Las Vegas, Nevada gardener
Pelargonium 'Big Apple' The Herb Society of America
Pelargonium 'Charity' The Herb Society of America
Pelargonium sidoides The Herb Society of America
San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden (P. cordatum, P. sidoides, P. Nutmeg)
Horticultural Myths Does Pelargonium citrosum 'Van Leeni' really repel mosquitoes? Washington State University Clark County Extension

Botany, taxonomy, and other information for enthusiasts: Look under "Plants of SA" for information on several South African species, including some of the parents of common horticultural hybrids
Pelargonium tricolor Reproduced from Veld & Flora, Botanical Society of South Africa, at the PlantZAfrica website
Who says they are boring? South African Pelargoniums. Reproduced from Veld & Flora, Botanical Society of South Africa, at the PlantZAfrica website
The Pelargonium Page by Matija Strlic. (actually many pages of botanical information)
Pelargoniums at the Succulents and Caudiciforms website
Pelargonium at the Pacific Bulb Society (Information on some tuberous species)
Pelargonium Species Part II UCI Arboretum "Arboretum Quarterly", University of California Irvine
The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Chapter V, Laws of Variation available online as part of the eBooks@Adelaide collection, University of Adelaide. (reference to Pelargonium)
Geraniums? Well, sort of... The University of California Botanical Garden, Berkeley

Possible Misspellings: Pelagonium, Pelagoinum, Pelargoium, Pellagonium, Pellargonium


Click for larger image.

An old-fashioned geranium variety (name, if any, unknown). Brisbane, May 2015
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