Pelargonium (pronounced /ˌpɛlɑrˈɡoʊniəm/) is a genus of flowering plants which includes about 200 species of perennials, succulents, and shrubs, commonly known as geraniums or storksbills. Confusingly, Geranium is the correct botanical name of a separate genus of related plants often called Cranesbills.
Both genera are in the Family Geraniaceae. Linnaeus originally included all the species in one genus, Geranium, but they were later separated into two genera by Charles L’Héritier in 1789.
Gardeners sometimes refer to the members of Genus Pelargonium as "pelargoniums" in order to avoid the confusion, but the older common name "geranium" is still in regular use.
The first species of Pelargonium known to be cultivated was Pelargonium triste, a native of South Africa. It was probably brought to the botanical garden in Leiden before 1600 on ships which stopped at the Cape of Good Hope. In 1631, the English gardener John Tradescant the elder bought seeds from Rene Morin in Paris and introduced the plant to England.
The name Pelargonium was introduced by Johannes Burman in 1738, from the Greek πελαργός, pelargós, stork, because part of the flower looks like a stork's beak.
Other than grown for their beauty, species of Pelargonium such as P. graveolens are important in the perfume industry and are cultivated and distilled for its scent. Although scented Pelargonium exist which have smells of citrus, mint, or various fruits, the varieties with rose scents are most commercially important.
Pelargonium distillates and absolutes, commonly known as "scented geranium oil" are sometimes used to supplement or adulterate expensive rose oils.
Pelargonium species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Angle Shades. Pelargoniums are believed to deter mosquitoes.
Garden geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum; syn. Pelargonium zonale) is one of the most common ornamental potted-plants, with over 200 varieties.
In 1988 the flower was described and illustrated in a comprehensive 3-volume work Pelargoniums of Southern Africa by Ellaphie Ward-Hilhorst with van der Walt and Vorster.
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