Pelargonium echinatum is one of the most beautiful winter
flowering pelargoniums. It is a stocky, compact, succulent perennial
shrublet with spines on the stems. For those with an eye for the
unusual, this plant makes the ideal garden or pot plant subject.
echinatum is summer deciduous. The leafless plants conserve
energy by photosynthesizing through their greenish stems during
the hot dry summer months. The leaves are cordate-ovate (heart-shaped)
with crenate or crenulate (frilly) margins. The plants can reach
heights of 1 m under ideal conditions.
The plants are in full flower during the winter. The inflorescence
consists of a relatively long peduncle terminating in a cluster
of 3-8 flowers which grow in an umbel (ball-shaped formation). Flower
colour varies from white or pink to dark purple. Dark markings are
present on the upper two petals. In cultivation the plants flower
from June till October. In their natural habitat they flower from
May until November.
This gem is found growing in the Richtersveld. It also occurs from
north of Clanwilliam. The plant appears to have wide tolerance of
growing habitats, growing in weathered rock, on dry stony slopes,
under the protection of karroid bushes or even on cliffs. In its
natural environment it rests during the hot dry summer.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Latin echinatus means covered with spine-like stipules on
the stem. It is interesting to note that a painting of Pelargonium
echinatum was done from a living plant cultivated in the Chelsea
Physic Garden in England in about 1780. It is estimated that there
are over 200 pelargonium species in South Africa alone.
Pollination is done by bees, bumble bees and sometimes moths.
At the Karoo Desert Garden in Worcester, moths have been observed
pollinating the flowers, especially in the late afternoon. The plant
has also adapted to cope with hot dry summers by dropping its leaves
and using its green succulent stem for photosynthesis.
Growing Pelargonium echinatum
Pelargonium echinatum will live for approx 20 years, if
it is looked after. Remember they drop their leaves in late November.
Do not over-water during the summer months as this action will shorten
their life span by at least half. P. echinatum needs a rest
The ideal position in the home garden is a sunny one. The plant
favours dry gardens making it the ideal water-wise subject. Anything
less than 120 mm of rain is ideal. Pelargonium echinatum
can tolerate a relatively wide temperature range. It is used to
extreme heat (above 40°C), but it can also take low temperatures
Propagation is either by cuttings or seed. If one wishes to propagate
by cuttings, it is advisable to harvest material in early autumn.
This is 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
productive, with sap rising for the production of new leaves.
Once the cutting is taken, allow it to dry out for three days.
The cutting should be 50-70 mm in length. Use sharp, good quality
river sand to strike the cuttings in. One can use low, intermittent
misters. A misting of four times a day in late April/May 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 weeks. Plant out in one pint bags. Use sandy loam with
very well-rotted compost. Move to a sunny location. By September
the plants should be strong enough to be planted either in a pot
Seeds are borne in September and October of each year (southern
hemisphere). Collect the seed once ripe. The seeds have long, corkscrew-like
tails attached to them. These twirly tails help the seed to bore
into the soil. Only sow the seed in April/May of the following season.
Sow in well-drained loam, approx. 1 cm below the soil surface. Keep
moist and well ventilated. Allow plenty of light. The seeds will
germinate in two to four weeks. Prick out carefully without damaging
the roots and plant into one pint bags. Move to a sunny location.
In most cases only plant these young seedlings in April of the following
Van der Walt, J.J.A. 1977. Pelargoniums of South Africa,
vol. 1. Juta, Cape Town.
Karoo Desert NBG