Geranium drakensbergensis Hilliard & B.L.Burtt
Common names: Drakensberg cranesbill
An attractive, floriferous and vigorous herbaceous perennial that makes a wonderful addition to a summer perennial border.
Geranium drakensbergensis is an evergreen perennial herb with a neat spreading and slightly mounding, clump-forming habit. The leaves are a fresh green. Almost the entire plant is thinly covered with fine hairs which face backwards and are pressed flat to the surface. The leaf can be divided from its centre into 3-5 deeply incised diamond-shaped segments.
The flower is typical of Geranium species, a simple cup-shaped structure with five mauve petals. Flowers appear year round, with peak flowering during summer. Seeds are dispersed from an elongated projection, commonly known as the beak. This is a fast growing herb.
The Drakensberg cranesbill is Red Listed as Rare, as it requires a specialist habitat in its natural distribution and is only known from six subpopulations. These populations are stable and not threatened.
Distribution and habitat
It occurs at altitude of 1220-2745 m, in KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg Mountains and prefers permanently moist conditions, such as the base of rock outcrops and beside streams.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Geranium with its very distinct fruiting body, which resembles a long crane beak, get its name from the Greek word, geranos which refers to cranes.
The type specimen of Geranium drakensbergensis was collected by Olive Mary Hilliard and Brian Laurence Burtt (1913-2008) on 22 November 1976.
Hilliard is a notable South African botanist and taxonomist and Burtt an acclaimed English botanist and taxonomist. They met in 1964 when Burtt travelled to South Africa to collect and study Streptocarpus, and formed a collaborative and very prosperous botanical partnership for 44 years with many combined publications. After the death of his wife in 2004, Burtt married Hilliard at the age of 91.
Cranesbills have a fascinating means of dispersing their seed. The elongated projection, which grows up from the centre of the style during the formation of fruit, elongates and eventually houses the seed in tiny catapults that have their tails attached to the beak. Once the seeds are ripe, the beak dries out and, if brushed against or dry enough, the tails curl outwards and with a flip fling the seeds a distance away.
Geraniums have long been used as ornamental bedding plants. In general they are easy to propagate and grow. Geranium drakensbergensis makes a wonderful border bedding plant in light shade or full sun, but requires regular watering. A planting of geraniums will attract many beneficial pollinating insects such as bees. Some species also have medicinal properties.
Growing Geranium drakensbergensis
Geraniums are fairly easy to propagate and will root from tip or stem cuttings in warmer weather, although they can be propagated throughout the year.
Sow seeds in a well-drained sandy mix in spring or summer. They germinate without much difficulty. A growth medium of well-drained sandy loam or compost rich soil produces lush, vigorous plants. They can be grown in pots or hanging baskets for a season, but quickly outgrow them and will require potting on and regular foliar feeding in order to flower well.
Few pests or disease are ever noticed on Geranium drakensbergensis .
- Anonymus. 2008. Obituaries: B. L. Burtt, Plant taxonomist. The Independent . 13 June 2008. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/b-l-burtt-plant-taxonomist-846272.html)
- Hilliard, O.M. & Burtt, B.L. 1985. A Revision of Geranium in Africa South of the Limpopo. Notes from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 42(2): xx-xx .
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Perennial
SA Distribution: KwaZulu-Natal
Soil type: Sandy, Clay, Loam
Flowering season: Early Summer, Late Summer, Sporadic/All year
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: Purple, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun, Morning Sun (Semi Shade), Afternoon Sun (Semi Shade)
Gardening skill: Easy