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Pelargonium discussion from another group

Hello all Pelly fans.  I'm usually a lurker on this group but I'm currently
fascilitating a discussion of species Pelargoniums on another list so I
though it might be of interest here and am copying some of the discussion
for the members of this group.

From: "Peter J. Liekkio" <pliekkio@connectexpress.com>

Hello all fat plant fans.  I'm Pete Liekkio (assisted by Terry) and this
next two weeks will be on Species Pelargoniums.   The genus has over 200
species many with much to interest the fat plant hobbyist.  In this two-week
session we'll deal with the genus in general and mention a few of our
favorite species.

Because they are so important commercially I'll first briefly mention the
Pelargonium hybrids ( zonal, ivy leaf, regal, stellar, scented, angel) that
are often erroneously call geraniums in our local nurseries.
These important summer garden plants are the result of Pelargonium
hybridizing that began in Europe over 200 years ago.  The parentage records
have been lost for most of the thousands of cultivars but it is believed
that the majority of them derive from at most 20 or so species.  Of all
these cultivars I grow two.  P. ' Henry Cox
for the amazing leaf color and P 'Mrs  Pat'
because of the small leaves, long flowering time and potential for bonsai.
If these are of interest to you more info can be found by following the
links at:  http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/2822/gerlinks.html

"Pelargoniums of Southern Africa"  by J.J. vander der Valt volumes 1,2 and 3
(Number 4 is rumored to be underway) is the best source of information on
Species Pelargoniums and their history.  It begins when the spice trade
route caused the Dutch and the British to create permanent trading posts at
the southern tip of Africa.   Pelargonium triste
in around 1600 was the first recorded Pelargonium to reach Europe from these
newly established outposts. By the early 1700's interest in unusual plants
was growing significantly.  Botanist, royal gardens and even wealthy
amateurs collected species from the cape and other parts of the world.
Interest in unusual plants continued and by the 1800's a large percentage of
Pelargoniums known today had already been collected.  For those of you that
are ready to see a couple of fat Pelargoniums check out P. longiflorum
"The Botanist's Repository" 1801 and P. fissifolium
http://www.connectexpress.com/~pliekkio/PFISSI.JPG "The Botanists
1805.   From the looks of these it shouldn't be lack of interest that keeps
them uncommon in todays collections.  Actually I grow both and at least in
my climate here in Seattle the learning curve to successful cultivation has
not been easy.  I'll mention more on cultivation later on.

The genus Pelargonium is in the family Geraniacea.  There are five genera in
the family:

Sarcocaulon  (lumped by some botanists into Monsonia)

All of the five genera have a similar elongated fruit (sometimes referred to
as a crane or storks bill) with five sections (mericarps) which contain the
seed.   Pelargoniums are distinct from the others in having irregular
flowers.  The upper 2 petals are different in shape or size from the lower

Though the 230+ species of Pelargoniums have a very wide distribution,
around 185 are concentrated in the winter rainfall area of the southwestern
corner of Africa.  The southeastern part of Africa (summer rainfall) has
bout 15 species.  Another 15 species are found in the rest of Africa.   The
remaining species are found as follows: Madagascar 2, Middle East 2, St. the
islands of Helena and Tristan da Cunha 1 each, Australiasia 8.

With well over 200 species, Pelargoniums have taken many forms: shrubs,
vines, succulent stems, succulent roots, tuberous.  They can be miniatures
or reach several meters. Most of the species are from the winter rainfall
area and are in active growth at this time.  Interestingly some of the
geophytic species bloom when not in leaf during the dormant season.  I
presume this is so that the seed will be ready to germinate at the start of
what may be a very minimal winter rainy season (from under 100mm to 750mm).
This winter rainfall area extents from the Cape to north of the Orange River
mouth which coincides with the habitat of many of our favorite fat plants.
I keep my plants in a cool greenhouse (they can experience light frost in
habitat) in well drained (with some species now growing in almost straight
pumice) and for most no water at all during the dormant season.

Many species in this large genus have similarities and this allows grouping
of species into sections that share common characteristics.  Currently there
are 14 sections in the genus Pelargonium.  Keys have been developed for each
section to assist in identifying unknown species.  I'll not go into detail
on the sections except to note that 9 of the 14 have some or all member
species that have either succulent stems or tuberous roots that could be of
interest to the succulentophile.  Terry and I will post more images and
descriptions of some of our favorite Pelargonium species in the next few

Keep Growing
Pete Liekkio
Seattle, Washington

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