Pelargonium sidoides (Hort.)

Pelargonium sidoides in my garden

Certainly a love-hate thing we’ve got going on with this plant right now. Growing endlessly and never ceasing to be in flower, it is almost boring in its consistency and certainly thuggish in its habit.  This South African native’s gray-green, leathery leaves with well-defined scalloped edges are attractive in their own right, but its the unusually dark colored flowers that seem to catch people’s attention – not actually ‘black’, but close enough for many who find the black flower mystique irresistible.

This plant makes a nice showing in our garden when it is not overwhelming anything surrounding it! It is approximately 4ft (1.3m) across right now (if only we weren’t also interesting in growing plants other than this one!). My standard procedure is the cut out the farthest reaching stems which tend to originate from underneath the shorter stems on top.  By cutting them as near to the center of the plant as possible, the cut stems are hidden by the shorter stems and foliage. Other than being a little untidy, the finished product looks remarkably normal.  It also is good to cut out some of the ‘bloomed out’ spikes, which continue to elongate as flower open and are spent, until they can’t seem to produce any more.

Sean Hogan, of Cistus Nursery in Oregon, who was once in charge of the South Africa section of the Botanical Garden at UC Berkeley, has always maintained that the plant we grow in our gardens under this name is actually a hybrid of P. sidoides and the closely related P. reniforme. The unceasing vigor of this garden plant would certainly seem to bear this out, but in spite of Sean’s insistence, I’ve never seen this hybrid documented.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe my eponymous friend is correct in his assertion of the hybrid status of this garden plant. But without any other authority to back this up, it is hard to convince others who are not as observant of the traits just discussed.

Other types of P. sidoides have been offered in our local trade at times, often with a much darker flower (typical of the true species), but they are never as vigorous as this guy. P. reniforme has a more pink flower, sometimes with darker markings – it is also occasionally offered (I’ve grown for a time and then suddenly died for no apparent reason).


One response to “Pelargonium sidoides (Hort.)”

  1. Interesting reading. Here is some additional information you might find useful:

    Click to access 9721.pdf

    Apparently both species you mention as possible parents of this presumed hybrid are used medicinally in South Africa in the same manner. Perhaps this is how the hybrid arose? Perhaps some casual cultivation of each plant in close proximity resulted in the cross, creating a superior plant (i.e. faster growing, easier to propagate) that was naturally saved and shared among others.

    I seem to be one of the few people who find the smell of the herbage objectionable (my wife calls it ‘pleasant’).

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