A true geranium


Few people realize that those summer bedding plants with the round lily pad looking leaves and clusters of red, pink, salmon or white flowers are not actually true geraniums. They are more properly called Pelargoniums.

We have a wild species of cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum) that has been showing itself everywhere since late fall. Several wild geranium species thrive across most of North America from the far north to the Deep South. Plants grow in full sun to partial shade and tolerate drought well. They also perform well on compacted soils.

Another common wild geranium species (Geranium maculatum) is perennial and spreads by creeping rhizomes. Many confuse the two, but the perennial type is taller and lobed leaves are not as divided.

Our Carolina cranesbill is a winter annual. Plants grow about a foot tall.  Leaves are attached opposite of each other, and resemble garden geranium foliage except they are deeply dissected. Plants often look silvery because they’re covered with fine minute hairs.

Flowers usually bloom in spring. They are similar in size to the individual flowers on Pelargoniums but clusters are sparser.  There are five pink to lavender petals per flower.

The seed capsules split to release seeds.  Before opening, the seed capsule resembles the bill of a crane, thus the name “Crane’s bill geranium.” Seeds are a favorite food for the mourning dove.

Leaves are edible but they are high in tannins, so they’re bitter. Rinsing the cooking water helps, like with dandelions or collards, but they aren’t one of my favorite greens.

The most common and important use of this cosmopolitan weed is medicinal. The whole plant is astringent, not surprising since another common name for it is alum root. However, this cranesbill is not related to the true alum plant, although the two have similar medicinal properties. True alums are a type of coral bell in the Saxifrage family.

This true geranium also contains styptic substances, so applying them to wounds will stop bleeding. A medicinal tea from crushed roots can be used as a gargle for sore throats and mouth sores. This bitter concoction is also effective for controlling diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome when consumed several times a day.

If you don’t want it in your landscaping, controlling this common cool-weather weed isn’t difficult. Removing plants by hand is effective for small areas. They pull easily, especially in well-mulched garden beds.

One reason Carolina geraniums are difficult to totally eradicate once established is that they have hard seed coats. Because of this, seeds may remain dormant for several years and pop up when conditions are right.

Several herbicides are labeled to control this weed. However, in a lawn situation the best way to control them is to promote conditions ideal for your grass to grow. A thick healthy turf resists weeds and lessens dependence on chemicals.

Wild geranium invasion doesn’t particularly bother me, because once warm weather hits it more or less melts away anyway. Besides, it gives the deer something in the winter to eat instead of ornamental shrubbery.

 

Thick clump of Carolina Cranesbill in early January

Thick clump of Carolina Cranesbill in early January

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture in northeastern North Carolina.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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15 Responses to A true geranium

  1. this whole article that you wrote really makes sense to me

  2. curtis24 says:

    We have a wild species of cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum) that has been showing itself everywhere since late fall,One reason Carolina geraniums are difficult to totally eradicate once established is that they have hard seed coats. if you don’t want it in your landscaping, controlling this common cool-weather weed isn’t difficult. Removing plants by hand is effective for small areas.

  3. We have several wild geranium species thriving across most of North America from the far north to the Deep South. You speak of 2 types of Geraniums, the Geranium carolinianum, and Geranium maculatum.

  4. Several wild geranium species thrive across most of North America from the far north to the Deep South.Flowers usually bloom in spring.There are five pink to lavender petals per flower. One reason Carolina geraniums are difficult to totally eradicate once established is that they have hard seed coats. Because of this, seeds may remain dormant for several years and pop up when conditions are right.

  5. Morgan Murray says:

    I find it interesting that the seed capsules look like the bill of a crane before it opens. This would explain how the plant got its name as the “Crane’s bill geranium”. These plants usually grow up to a foot tall in the spring time. This weed seems to be beneficiary. For example, it gives the deer something to eat in the winter.

  6. Sam DeLaVergne says:

    The leaves of this plant is attached opposite. I like the way this plant looks.

  7. Its neat how you can use this plant for wounds and tea. Its really cool when plants have multi purposes. The leaves on the plant are pretty but I prefer plants with colorful flowers.

  8. this article really makes since to me

  9. ashleychory says:

    it interesting that the seed capsules look like the bill of a crane before it opens. This would explain how the plant got its name as the “Crane’s bill geranium”. These plants usually grow up to a foot tall in the spring time. This weed seems to be beneficiary. and The leaves on the plant are pretty but I prefer plants with colorful flowers.

  10. it interesting that the seed capsules look like the bill of a crane before it opens also The leaves of this plant is attached opposite

  11. it interesting that the seed capsules look like the bill of a crane before it opens also that Its neat how you can use this plant for wounds and tea

  12. trevashley96 says:

    Although these leaves don’t have much color to them, they are still very pretty. I think its awesome that they can be used for tea and wounds.

  13. Pingback: Carolina Geranium (Geranium carolinianum) – rewildcanberra

  14. JANET M LOCKERBIE says:

    Good treatment of the Geranium carolinianum, Ted. Thank you for the straightforward info re: plant and it’s medicinal uses. Just what I was looking for. I will be sorry to see it go when warm weather arrives.

  15. Robyn Culpepper says:

    Thanks for the information that you provide!

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