This plant is the granddaddy of all pelargoniums, as it is one
of the bulkiest plants in the Pelargonium group. In cultivation
at the Karoo Desert NBG in Worcester, some plants attain heights
of 1.4 m. In its natural habitat, plants are known to attain heights
of 1.2 m.
plant is a succulent perennial shrublet. The stems are thick and
fleshy with knobs on them, and greenish yellow with peeling bark.
Pelargonium crithmifolium is summer deciduous. The plant
is able to photosynthesize through its greenish bark. This unusual
characteristic is seen in a number of other summer deciduous plants
from the arid winter rainfall areas. It is nature's way of surviving
the dry summer heat.
The succulent leaves are usually tightly bunched together on the
tips of the branches. They are pinnately divided (divided into smaller
leaflets). The leaves, when crushed, have a ginger and nutmeg smell.
Flowers are produced in umbels of normally 4 to 8 at a time. Flowering
time is anywhere from May to October.
The plants generally grow very slowly. This is especially the case
where plants are cultivated from seed. Under ideal conditions it
can take five years for a plant to reach a height of 1 m. They can
live for more than forty years.
Pelargonium crithmifolium occurs in southern Namibia,
the Richtersveld and Namaqualand. It favours hot, dry, rocky habitats.
Like so many of these plants from the dry western parts of our country,
they are water misers. They survive in winter rainfall areas that
receive little more than 80 mm per annum. They are relatively frost
tolerant, being able to survive temperatures of - 4°C.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
plant has leaves which resemble the sea samphire, Crithmum
and folium is the Latin for leaf, hence the specfic epithet
crithmifolium. Pelargoniums have been cultivated for centuries.
One has only to look at the window boxes with pelargoniums spilling
out of them in a number of European countries to realize the truth
of this. It is estimated that there are over two hundred Pelargonium
species in South Africa alone. Pelargonium crithmifolium
was reported in cultivation in England as early as 1792.
Pelargonium crithmifolium is pollinated by bees and bumble
bees. The seeds are carried by the wind some distance away from
the parent plant. Once they reach the ground they bore their way
into the soil. This is possible due to the corkscrew tail attached
to the end of the seed. As the wind blows, so the corkscrew turns,
much like a drill bit. This particular species is adapted to surviving
in dry conditions. It has thick, succulent stems which are able
to photosynthesize and is summer dormant. Its slow growth pattern
may also protect it from seasonal fluctuations.
Growing Pelargonium crithmifolium
can be accomplished either by cuttings or seed. If one wishes to
propagate by cuttings, it is advisable to harvest material in early
autumn when the plant is starting to produce its first set of leaves
of the season. It is at this stage that the plant is at its most
Once the cutting is taken, allow it to dry out for two weeks. The
cutting should be 100 -150 mm in length. Ensure the cutting is healthy
and has plenty of new growth on it. Use sharp, good quality river
sand to strike the cuttings in. One can use low intermittent misters.
A misting four times a day in April should suffice. Ensure the area
where the cuttings are placed to root, is well ventilated and there
is enough natural light (approx. 50%). The cuttings should, under
the right conditions, root within two to three months. Rooting is
a lot slower than the other Pelargonium species, due to the
caudiciform (thick succulent) growth of the plant. Plant out in
one pint bags. Use sandy loam with very well-rotted compost. Move
to a sunny location. By October/November the plants should be strong
enough to be planted either in a pot or outside.
Seeds are borne in spring (September to October) of each year (southern
hemisphere). Collect the seed once ripe. Sow the seed in April/May
(autumn), when the growing season commences for this plant. Sow
in well-drained loam, approx. 1 cm below the soil surface. Keep
moist and well ventilated. Give plenty of light. The seeds will
germinate in two to four weeks. The seedlings should be fat and
healthy (about 20 mm in diameter). Prick out carefully without damaging
the roots and plant into one pint bags. Move to a sunny location.
The seedlings should be ready for planting by the next April (autumn).
- Van der Walt, J.J.A. 1977. Pelargoniums of Southern Africa,
vol. 1. Juta, Cape Town.
Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens