sidoides forms a rosette-like plant with crowded leaves. It
is very similar to some forms of P. reniforme, but is easily
distinguished by its blackish, rather than pink petals. The long-stalked
leaves are mildly aromatic, heart-shaped and velvety. The distinctive
dark, reddish-purple (almost black) flowers are present almost throughout
the year, but occur mostly from late spring to summer (October -
January) with a peak in midsummer (December). The genus name
Pelargonium is derived from the Greek word Pelargos
which means stork. This refers to the rostrum of the schizocarp
(seed capsule) which resembles the bill of a stork. The species
name sidoides reflects the resemblance of the foliage to
that of a European plant, Sida rhombifolia.
Pelargonium sidoides has a wide distribution. It occurs throughout
the eastern Cape, Lesotho, Free State and southern and south-western
Gauteng in the Republic of South Africa. It usually grows in short
grassland and sometimes with occasional shrubs and trees on stony
soil varying from sand to clay-loam, shale or basalt. P. sidoides
is found at altitudes ranging from near sea level to 2300m in Lesotho.
It is found in areas which receive rainfall in summer (November
to March) varying from 200 - 800mm per annum.
plant is an evergreen in cultivation, but it probably dies back
in nature during droughts and in winter (May to August). The system
of thickened underground root-like branches is a special adaptation
which enables the plant to survive grass fires which occur almost
annually over much of its range.
P. sidoides can be planted in rockeries in full sun. It
is also an excellent pot plant. It is utilized for a variety of
folk-medicinal purposes resulting in the colloguial name 'Rabassam'.
Growing Pelargonium sidoides
P. sidoides experiences moderate, rather than high, summer
temperatures and winter frost or even snow over much of its range.
This plant needs less water during winter and watering should be
increased at the beginning of summer (November to March). Top dressing
with a slow release fertilizer in spring will improve growth and
flowering in summer. In winter, dead leaves and old flower stalks
should be removed from the plant.
This plant is easily propagated from seed or by means of basal
cuttings in autumn (March to May). The cuttings should be prepared
and the base dipped in a rooting hormone and then be placed in containers
with coarse riversand which has been pre-watered with a fungicide.
The containers with cuttings should then be placed in cold-frames
to root. If plants are kept in glasshouses, yellow sticky traps
should be placed strategically to combat white-fly.
The family Geraniaceae consists of five genera; Geranium, Erodium,
Monsonia, Sarcocaulon and Pelargonium. The genus Pelargonium
consists of more than 200 natural species. The larger majority occurs
in South Africa, while a few species occur in tropical Africa, Syria,
Australia and on a few islands in the Indian Ocean. About 80% of
the South African species are confined to the winter rainfall south-western
For more information see: Van der Walt J.J.A. & Vorster P.J.
Pelargoniums of Southern Africa. Volumes 1 and 3.
Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden