Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
Pelargoniums—familiarly called “geraniums”—come in many shapes and sizes. Almost all are native to Southern Africa and some of them come from surprisingly dry habitats.
The sturdy-looking, samphire-leaved pelargonium (Pelargonium crithmifolium) is one of the largest of all pelargoniums. It can grow to nearly four feet high, and is very well adapted to the conditions of its homelands in the Northern and Western Cape of South Africa.
It has thick, succulent stems and a drought-deciduous habit, both features that enable survival during hot and dry summers. By shedding its leaves before the onset of drought, moisture loss is kept to a minimum and the thickened stems function as water-storage devices.
Although devoid of foliage during its dormant period, it is able to continue photosynthesis thanks to the presence of chlorophyll in its green-tinged bark.
The mild winters bring rain and the possibility of growth. New leaves unfurl in late autumn and flowers appear by early spring—as can be seen this week in the Cactus and Succulent House, the left-hand wing of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.
If this piques your interest, plan to visit on Scented Geranium Day, Sunday, July 8. We’ll be looking at the astounding varieties and fragrances of Pelargonium species and hybrids in Wave Hill’s gardens, learning how to cook with geraniums and making soap using geranium oil.