Indigenous geraniums.

Many people find the difference between Geranium and Pelargonium confusing for both belong to the family Geraniaceae, and pelargoniums are often commonly called geraniums. The difference is very easy to see: it is all in the shape of the flower. Geraniums have a very simple circular shaped flower with five equal sized petals while the pelargoniums have huge variation in their irregular shaped flowers that usually have two petals pointing up and three petals pointing down.


Geranium (Wayside garden centre}                                        Pelargonium (Davenport garden centre)

Around the world these perennials thrive as wildflowers.  Famous for their delicate, jewel-toned flowers, attractive foliage and a low mounding habit they make the ideal plant for a wildflower garden

Plants from this family, especially the geraniums and pelargoniums, have been hybridized and are widely cultivated the world over for their spectacular displays of flowers and striking colours.

Geranium is a genus of 422 species of flowering annual, biennial, and perennial plants that are commonly known as the cranesbills. There are 33 species in southern Africa of which 4 species occur in the Cape.  (I’m discounting the introduced species which have naturalised in many parts of our area)

In the surrounding areas of Knysna  we have 3 indigenous species: Geranium incanum var. incanum, Geranium incanum var. multifidum  and Geranium ornithopodon.

The name Geranium is derived from an ancient Greek word geranos, a crane, referring to the similarity of the long beaked fruit (seed capsule) to the bill of the crane, incanum = hairy, hoary,  grey or silver coloured,  multifidum = many divided (referring to the leaves), ornithopodon = “bird feet”, from the Greek ornithos (“bird”) and pous (“feet”); …

Geranium incanum (Wayside garden centre)

Geranium incanum Burm.f. var. incanum

Family: Geraniaceae

Common names: Carpet Geranium; Horlosies, Vrouetee, Bergtee, (Afrikaans); ngope-sethsoha, tlako (Sotho).

It carpets the verges of national roads and covers large patches of grassland at the coast.  The leaves are deeply divided with the odd leaf turning shades of yellow, orange and red.

Distribution and habitat

It occurs naturally in the southwestern and eastern parts of the country where it can be found scrambling about through natural vegetation. They are plentiful in Steenbok Nature Reserve, Leisure Isle and can also be seen along the N2 to George.


This plant is used traditionally by both African  and Europeans to make a medicinal tea from the leaves which is used to offer relief from certain complaints such as bladder infections, venereal diseases, and conditions relating to menstruation.

Growing Geranium incanum

Planted near walkways, they soften the edges, in rockeries they can be tucked into crevices creating a softness in a hard landscape.

Geranium incanum is easily propagated from both seed and cuttings. Selected forms, such as those with darker coloured flowers, are best grown from cuttings. Fresh seed sown in spring or autumn is easily germinated and will produce a variety of darker and paler forms. Seed can be sown directly onto a well prepared seedling medium in trays and lightly covered. Once watering has been commenced the trays should never be allowed to dry out completely. Seedlings can be transplanted into separate containers once they are large enough to handle.

Plants from this family, especially geraniums and pelargoniums, have been hybridized and are widely cultivated the world over for their spectacular displays of flowers and striking colours.

The beautiful Carpet geranium flowering on a road verge
Geranium ornithopodon

Geranium ornithopodon Eckl. & Zeyh. Eastern Cape, Western Cape

Family: Geraniaceae

It differs from G.incanum by having lobed and velvety leaves with pretty dark veined pink flowers.  It is commonly found at forest margins by the coast and on lower mountain slopes of the western and eastern Cape.  There is a thriving colony growing along the Phantom Pass road, just beyond Lightly’s.

This plant is not commercially available, but it can be grown easily from seed or cuttings  just like  G.incanum.