Wild Geraniums

Photo copyright Eric in SF, from Wikipedia

At the very moment we are supporting our schools and churches by picking up red, pink or white geraniums at their Mother’s Day plant sales, a more quiet celebration is happening along the wooded paths in Angle Fly Preserve. There the native Wild Geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are quietly turning their bright purple-pink blossoms to the sun.

These two species – though both commonly called geraniums – are only distantly related as is reflected in their scientific names. The Mother’s Day geranium is in the genus Pelargonium, while the Wild Geranium is in the eponymous genus Geranium. We can blame this confusion on Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, who first placed these two plants in the same genus in the mid-1700’s. By 1789, naturalists had learned more about the plants and separated them into two genera. But the name confusion stuck.

Wild Geranium is also called Cranesbill for the shape of its long, pointy seed capsule that develops after it has been pollinated by bees or flies. The seeds are at the base of the “bill”, held in place by spring tension. When ripe, slight pressure by a passing animal or breeze can catapult the seeds into the air and away from the parent plant.

After you bring your Mom big pots of Pelargonium, take her for a stroll through Angle Fly to see the “real” geraniums. If it is too late by the time you read this, put it on the calendar for 2013.

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