Cranesbill Geraniums

Photo by: DK – Gardening Step by Step
© 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK – Gardening Step by Step
, 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Just what is a cranesbill geranium? If you asked this question, you are not alone. With numerous types of plants in the geranium family, it can be tough to distinguish and keep track of each one. However, cranesbill is, in fact, the common name for true geraniums, which are also often known as hardy or wild geraniums. The name cranesbill refers to the shape of the fruit capsule from which its seeds are scattered. They are referred to by these names in an effort to distinguish them from pelargoniums—which are widely referred to as geraniums because they belong to the geraniaceae family. However, even though they are in the same family cranesbill geraniums differ greatly from pelargoniums. 

When you think of a geranium it may be pelargoniums that immediately come to mind. These plants are frequently called common or garden geraniums and have an outstanding prevalence at nurseries and garden centers. Adding to public perception, they are also often marketed as geraniums. However, while pelargoniums feature upright, ball-shaped blooms, true or cranesbill geraniums have flowers comprised of five petals each that span approximately 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches wide dotting a bushy green foliage. You’ll find cranesbill geraniums in shades of purple, blue, white, and pink.  

There’s much more to love about cranesbill geraniums, too. For example, while they are partial to the sun, they can tolerate and even thrive in areas that receive some shade. They require little care or maintenance, yet tend to remain free of disease, which could explain their ability to thrive in wild and remote areas. Cranesbill geraniums prefer fertile, well-drained soil that is moist. They can be planted as ground cover, in containers, in rock gardens, or in beds as a border. When you spot them in their native woodland habit, you may see them working their way in between rocks or mounded at the base of a hill. 

It should also be noted that cranesbill geraniums are perennial plants. They will lie dormant in the winter, and then just as spring begins to emerge they will exhibit new growth on their leaves. Their flowering may last throughout the growing season become more and less intense as it cycles.  

The height and spread of the cranesbill geraniums can vary widely from one variety to another, so be sure to check your plant tag for exact specifications and recommended growing conditions. If you find a variety that you love, know they are relatively easy to propagate and share.  

Perhaps the most popular of the cranesbill varieties is ‘Rozanne,’ a heat-tolerant plant that has bluish-purple blooms. Other well-known varieties include ‘Samobor,’ which features dark red, wine-colored flowers and the lilac cranesbill, which as you might imagine, has light purple and blue blossoms.