Pelargonium cucullatum (L) L'Hér.
Common names: hooded-leaf pelargonium, herba althaea (Eng.); wildemalva (Afr.)
Pelargonium cucullatum is the parent of many modern pelargonium hybrids. It is a fast growing, tough shrub tolerant to coastal conditions, and is also excellent for growing in containers on a sunny patio, informal borders and rockeries.
When in flower Pelargonium cucullatum is covered with pinkish, purple flowers and is the most conspicuous pelargonium in the south western Cape, especially when growing in dense masses.
Pelargonium cucullatum is a fairly tall, sprawling shrub that grows to a height of more than 2 m. The shrub is branched with the bottom of the main stem becoming quite woody. The leaves are more or less round or kidney-shaped and cupped, sometimes succulent. When crushed the leaves of some forms emit a strong, sweet scent. The leaves are approximately 5-8 cm wide, turned upward, slightly incised and have reddish tips. Both the stems and leaves are hairy.
The flowers come in many shades, ranging from dark to light mauve and pink. Occasionally white forms are also found. The veins on the flowers are streaked purple and are prominent on all five petals. Pelargonium cucullatum flowers profusely for a month or two, any time from September to February. The flowers are faintly scented. Sunbirds, butterflies, long-beaked flies and moths have all been observed visiting the flowers.
Distribution and habitat
Pelargonium cucullatum is a tough and widespread shrub, which grows on the sandy and granite slopes along the Cape coast from Saldanha to Baardskeerdersbos.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The species name comes from the Latin cucullatus meaning "hood" and refers to the shape of the cupped leaves. The plant was introduced into cultivation in England by Bentick in 1690.
Traditionally this pelargonium was used medicinally to cure colic, kidney ailments, diarrhoea, coughs and fevers. The leaves were used as a poultice for bruises, stings and abscesses. In the 19th century it was used as a hedgerow ornamental in Cape Town. It is also useful as a cut flower as the branches last for many weeks in water.
Growing Pelargonium cucullatum
Pelargoniums are easily grown and fairly adaptable. They can be propagated vegetatively and from seed. Pelargonium cucullatum requires full sun and little attention once it is established.
Vegetative propagation by means of stem cuttings is the method most widely used. Cuttings may be taken in autumn or summer from a parent plant that is strong and healthy. The stem should be fairly firm but not woody. Most of the leaves and stipules should be removed, leaving only a few leaves intact on the top. If the leaves are large they may be trimmed to reduce moisture loss. The cuttings should be left to dry for a few hours before placing into the soil. The cuttings should be rooted in trays filled with a well-drained medium such as coarse river sand, or planted directly into the ground. The basal ends of the cutting should be dipped in a rooting hormone, e.g. Serradix, to improve the rate of rooting, then inserted in a prepared hole made by a dibber or a nail to avoid damaging the ends.
The cuttings should be kept moist, but as this is a fairly drought resistant plant you should avoid over-watering or the cuttings might damp off. Four to eight weeks later, after root formation, cuttings should be fed with a seaweed extract product. One or two weeks after this, the cuttings may be potted. Plants produced this way will flower in approximately 3-6 months.
Pelargoniums can also be grown from seed. The seed of pelargoniums is quite interesting in that, attached to the elliptically shaped seed, is a feathered tail-like structure that is coiled in a spiral. The tail allows the seed to drill and secure itself in the soil if twisted around by the wind or affected by the movement of the animals.
Sow the seed in a light, well-drained soil which contains coarse sand. Firm down gently to level the medium. Broadcast the seeds evenly, covering them with a layer of clean white sand. The depth of sowing is usually 1.5 times the size of the seed. Water thoroughly but gently and provide light shade. Germination usually takes place within 10 -14 days. Pelargoniums grown from seed are generally more vigorous than those made of cuttings; however, they take longer to flower.
Horticulture Student: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy, Loam
Flowering season: Spring, Early Summer
PH: Acid, Neutral
Flower colour: White, Pink, Mauve/Lilac
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Easy