Pelargonium graveolens with its attractive,
strongly rose-scented leaves and pinkish white flowers is an interesting
addition to the mixed border, adding texture, fragrance and colour.
graveolens is an erect, much-branched shrub, that can reach
a height of up to 1,3 m and a spread of 1 m. The hairy stems are
herbaceous when young, becoming woody with age. The deeply incised
leaves are velvety and soft to the touch due to the presence of
numerous glandular hairs. The leaves are strongly rose-scented.
The showy white to pinkish flowers are borne in an umbel-like inflorescence
and are present from late winter to summer (August - January) peaking
in spring (September - October).
This plant is confined to two separate areas in southern Africa,
one in Limpopo Province, where it receives summer rain, and the
other in the south-eastern part of the Western Cape, where it receives
rain throughout the year. In both these regions, the summer is hot
and the winter is mild, and Pelargonium graveolens is found
growing on the mountains, in sheltered positions such as kloofs,
usually in relatively moist habitats. Pelargonium graveolens
has also been recorded in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Derivation of the name
The genus Pelargonium gets is name from the resemblance of
the shape of the fruit to the beak of a stork, pelargos in
Greek. The species name graveolens refers to the strong fragrance
of the leaves, graveolens meaning strong-smelling in Latin.
The genus belongs to the family Geraniaceae, which
also comprises four other genera, Geranium, Erodium, Monsonia
and Sarcocaulon. There are ± 220 species within the
genus Pelargonium, and 80% of them are confined to southern
Africa and about 80% of these are confined to the south-western
corner of the country.
Pelargonium graveolens is used in the production of geranium
oil, which is used as a substitute for the expensive attar of roses
in the perfume trade. Cultivars and hybrids of this species are
grown commercially on the island of Reunion and elsewhere.
Growing Pelargonium graveolens
Pelargonium graveolens grows very well
in moist, semi-shaded positions in the garden where it can be used
as filler. Its velvety leaves add texture to the planting. This
species also makes a good container or hanging basket subject, provided
it is kept in a semi shade position. Pelargonium graveolens
responds well to feeding with liquid organic fertilizers. Use a
suitable systemic insecticide if whiteflies are observed feeding
on the plants.
This plant can be propagated by means of stem and
tip cuttings, or seed. Cuttings root well when dipped into a suitable
rooting hormone and then placed in trays filled with coarse river
sand. The trays should be kept in coldframes. Optimum rooting time
is autumn (March-May) and spring (September-November). Seed can
be sown in spring, summer or autumn.
VAN DER WALT J. J. A, and Vorster P J, 1988 Pelargoniums of Southern
Africa, Vol. 3. National Botanical Gardens: Cape Town.
Ernst van Jaarsveld, Personal Communication
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden