This profusely flowering shrublet will be any gardeners delight in spring.
Pelargonium fruticosum is a small shrublet, 450 mm tall. The stem is green when young and the lower parts become somewhat red and woody with age. The slightly fleshy, much divided, leathery leaves are trifoliolate with narrow segments 15 mm in diameter. Two to three flowers grow on each stalk. The flowers have five white to dark pink petals. The upper two petals are spathulate (spoon-shaped) and larger than the three obovate (inversely egg-shaped) lower ones. The upper two petals have wide claws (the narrow proximal part of a spathulate petal). The fruit, a so-called schizocarp, splits into 5 separate parts, known as mericarps, with the basal part about 6 mm long and a tail about 35 mm long. Pelargonium fruticosum flowers throughout the year but has a peak period during September and November.
Pelargonium fruticosum is listed on the Red List of South African plants (Raimondo et al. 2009) as Least Concern. A Taxon is Least Concern when it has been evaluated against the five IUCN criteria and does not qualify for the categories Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened.
Distribution and habitat
Pelargonium fruticosum occurs in the southern Cape from Ladismith in the west to Willowmore in the east. The species occurs from the coast to about 100 km inland. It ranges from sea level to altitudes up to 1500 m. This altitudinal range corresponds with the range in climatic conditions under which the species grows. Rain falls almost throughout the year, ranging from as little as 200 mm in the inland regions to more than 800 mm along the coastal regions. The inland regions in winter are subject to frost and occasionally snow whilst the coast is frost-free. Summers are mild along the coast and hot further inland. It grows in different vegetation types ranging from karroid veld to fynbos, which is dry at the higher inland localities and moist along the coast. The species grows on south-facing slopes. It is typically linked with well-drained stony soils derived from sandstone, quartzite or shale.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Pelargonium fruticosum belongs in the family Geraniaceae, a large cosmopolitan family of approximately 11 genera and 800 species in subtropical and temperate regions of the world. The South African genera in the Geraniaceae family are Monsonia, Sarcocaulon, Pelargonium, Erodium and Geranium. There are approximately 270 species of Pelargonium which occur in S, E and NE Africa, Asia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand, most of which (± 219 species) occur in southern Africa. Pelargoniums are often wrongly called geraniums. Pelargonium gets its name from the resemblance of the shape of the fruit to the beak of a stork, which is pelargos in Greek. The Latin species epithet fruticosum, meaning shrubby, refers to the habit of the species. The epithet was first applied to this species as early as 1787 when the Spanish botanist Cavanilles described it under the name Geranium fruticosum. This description was based on a dry specimen received from the French botanist Thouin. Cavanilles' description was accompanied by a fine illustration of the plant. Botanists however did not recognize it as Geranium fruticosum. In 1835 Ecklon and Zeyher, botanical collectors, transferred the epithet to their genus Myrrhidium which is currently a section of the genus Pelargonium. In 1860, the Irish botanist Harvey concluded that the plant represented a variety of Pelargonium myrrhidium of the section Myrrhidium and called it P. myrrhifolium (L.) L'Hérit. var. fruticosum (Cav.) Harv. The latter was maintained by succeeding authors. The original specimen on which Cavanilles based his description is still housed in the Madrid herbarium. It was discovered that the epithet fruticosum had been applied by later authors to Pelargonium longicaule Jacq. of the section Myrrhidium. The epithet divaricatum Thunb., originating from 1794, had in the meantime also been applied to the present species, but it was predated by the epithet fruticosum (1787); the latter, therefore, has precedence.
The seed is adapted to wind dispersal. 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.
Uses and cultural aspects
Although Pelargonium fruticosum has no cultural use, horticulturally it is an attractive shrublet. When gardening with Pelargonium fruticosum one should bear in mind that it is best grown in a sunny area of the garden. It has been observed that animals browse on P. fruticosum. The flowers are attractive, making this plant very conspicuous when in flower. Providing year round colour, it will stay compact, if pruned. It requires much water to establish it and to encourage rapid and healthy growth. Once established in the garden it will tolerate drought and wind.
Growing Pelargonium fruticosum
Pelargoniums are among of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow. Pelargonium fruticosum can be propagated from seed and cuttings. Cuttings can be taken at any time of the year from a healthy vigorous plant, from softwood or herbaceous growth. A rooting hormone will speed up the rooting process, especially for the softwood cuttings. Place the cuttings in a container containing separate compartments or plugs with river sand, and place in cold frames or well-lit areas and keep them damp. The cuttings should root in 3 weeks. Give the rooted cuttings a 3-week weaning period and transplant them into a well-drained potting soil mix and place them in a sunny position. When they have formed a strong root-ball they can be planted into the garden.
Sow seeds in late summer to early autumn. The seed should be sown in a light, well-drained potting mix. Sprinkle the seeds evenly in the seed tray and cover them with fine white sand or fine-milled pine bark. Water the seeds gently but thoroughly with a fine rose spray and place them in light shade with no direct sun. Seed germinates in 2–3 weeks.
References and further reading
- Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Missouri.
- Moriarty, A., 1982. Outeniqua, Tsitsikamma & eastern Little Karoo. South African Wild Flower Guide 2. Botanical Society of South Africa, Cape Town.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Van der Walt, J.J.A. & Vorster, P.J. 1981. Pelargoniums of southern Africa, vol. 2. Juta, Cape Town.