Pelargonium lanceolatum (Cav.) Kern
Common names: spear-leaved pelargonium
Pelargonium lanceolatum is an excellent plant for a small rockery garden.
Pelargonium lanceolatum is an upright branching plant, 300 mm to 400 mm tall. The stems are woody at the base. The slender brittle side branches are smooth and glaucous (sea-green).
The leaves are unifoliate which means that a leaf consists of a single leaflet which is articulated to the petiole (leaf stalk) in a particular way. The leaves are glaucous and characteristically fleshy and spoon-shaped with a narrowing point.
The colour of the flower petals varies from a pale yellow to white with a red spot in the center of the upper two petals which joins two red lines from the base. The smaller lower petals also have a red stripe from the base upwards. The plant flowers throughout the year but does have a peak period in spring. The fruit is a schizocarp which splits into 5 separate parts or mericarps, with the basal part about 6 mm long and containing a single seed, and a spirally twisting tail (awn) about 35 mm long.
Pelargonium lanceolatum is listed on the Red List of South African plants (Raimondo et al. 2009) as Least Concern. The category Least Concern indicates taxa that are not at risk of extinction because they do not qualify, and are not close to qualifying for any of the categories of threat. According to IUCN (2001) the category is typically applied to `widespread and abundant taxa'.
Distribution and habitat
Pelargonium lanceolatum has a limited distribution, ranging from the surrounding mountains in Worcester, De Doorns and Montagu. The most westerly record is from Buffelshoekkloof in the Hexriver valley. Eastwards it occurs in the Langeberg near Montagu. Northwards it occurs in the Voetpadsberg between Worcester and Laingsburg. The area has a fairly low annual rainfall between 200 and 400 mm. The plant occurs in sandy and rocky habitats.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
Pelargonium lanceolatum belongs in the family Geraniaceae, a large cosmopolitan family of approximately 11 genera and 800 species in subtropical and temperate regions of the world. The South African genera in the Geraniaceae family are Monsonia, Sarcocaulon, Pelargonium, Erodium and Geranium. The genus Pelargonium has approximately 270 species which occur in S, E and NE Africa, Asia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand, most of which (± 219 species) occur in southern Africa, with a large concentration of more than 135 species in the southern portion of South Africa between Nieuwoudtville in the west and Port Elizabeth in the east. Pelargoniums are often incorrectly called geraniums. The genus Pelargonium gets its name from the resemblance of the shape of the fruit to the beak of a stork, pelargos in Greek, while the Latin specific epithet, lanceolatum, refers to the lance-shaped leaf, which widens above the base and narrows to the apex.
The son of Carl Linnaeus first named this species as Geranium glaucum L.f. in 1781. Although this is the earliest name for this species, it could unfortunately not be used because Nicolaas Burman (Burm.f.) had already used the same name to describe a different species in 1759. Burman's Geranium glaucum Burm.f. is a synonym for Pelargonium ovale (Burm.f.) L'Hérit and G. glaucum L.f. is a later homonym of G. glaucum Burm.f. Article 64 in the International Code of Plant Nomenclature states that a later homonym or a combination of both is prohibited (Schonken). Therefore Geranium glaucum L.f. and Pelargonium glaucum (L.f.) L'Hérit. are both illegitimate names. The next earliest correct name is Geranium lanceolatum of Cavanilles (1787). Thus the legitimate name is Pelargonium lanceolatum (Cav.) Kern.
In 1775 the species was introduced into England by Kennedy and Lee. A botanical magazine of 1787 states that Lee, an owner of vineyard nurseries in Hammersmith, near London, was looking at herbarium specimens of the plant at the Banks herbarium when he discovered viable seed. He then germinated these seeds and raised plants from them. This meant that although he did not bring the actual plant material back from Cape, he was responsible for introducing the species into cultivation.
The seed is adapted to wind dispersal: it is light in weight and has a feathered, spiral. When the seed lands and there is adequate water in the soil, the awn acts like a drill, twisting the seed into the soil so that it is anchored and thus avoids being blown away, or carried away on moving animals.
Pelargonium lanceolatum has no cultural use, but it is an attractive shrub ideal for gardens that are dry. On its own or mixed with other succulent plants it is an excellent plant for creating a beautiful rockery.
Growing Pelargonium lanceolatum
Pelargonium lanceolatum can be propagated from cuttings and seed. Cuttings can be taken at any time of the year from softwood growth of healthy plants. The use of a rooting hormone will speed up the rooting process. Place the cuttings in good coarse river sand in cold frames or in a well lit area of the garden and keep them moist. The cuttings should root within 3 weeks. Give the rooted cuttings a hardening-off period of two weeks and transplant them into a well-drained potting soil medium and place them in a sunny position. Feed with an organic liquid fertilizer. As soon as the plants have produced a sturdy root ball they can be planted out into the garden.
Sow seeds in late summer to early autumn. The seed should be sown in a light, well-drained potting soil medium. Sow the seeds evenly in the seed tray and cover them with good decomposed fine-milled pine bark topping. Water the seeds gently but thoroughly with a fine rose spray and place them in light shade with no direct sun. The seeds will germinate in 2-3 weeks. Pelargonium lanceolatum is a tough shrub suitable for drier gardens. The shrub prefers full sun. In the Western Cape the best time to plant is during the rainy months of winter to allow plants to establish themselves before the warm, dry summer. Cut back after flowering to keep the plants neat and vigorous.
Acknowledgements I am grateful to Ernst van Jaarsveld and Alice Notten for helping me translate the Afrikaans literature into English.
- Miller, D. 1996. Pelargoniums, a gardener's guide to the species and their hybrids and cultivars. B.T. Batsford Ltd, London.
- Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds). 2009. Red List of South African plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
- Schonken, C.M. 1980. `N morfologiese en taksonomiese studie van die seksie Glaucophyllum van Pelargonium. Universiteit van Stellenbosch.
- Van der Walt, J.J. 1977. Pelargoniums of southern Africa. Purnell, Cape Town.
- Voster, P. 1990. Proceedings of the International Geraniaceae Symposium. University of Stellenbosch.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Plant Type: Perennial, Shrub
SA Distribution: Western Cape
Soil type: Sandy
Flowering season: Spring, Sporadic/All year
Flower colour: White, Pink, Cream, Yellow
Aspect: Full Sun
Gardening skill: Average