This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
None of the seed-bearing beds have produced seeds of Herb Robert as yet. The North Temperate and Arctic Zones form the limit of its range in Arctic Europe, North Africa, Siberia, Western Asia, as far as N.W. India. It is found in every part of Great Britain, as well as Ireland and the Channel Isles, and in Yorkshire it is found at the height of 2000 ft.
A hedgerow plant, Herb Robert is one of the unfailing signs of spring with its characteristic scent, which is perceptible in the middle of a lane. It grows where one also finds Red Campion, Winter Cress, Garlic Mustard, Hedge Parsley, Cow Parsnip, Cleavers, Nipplewort, and many another hedgerow flower. It is also a common woodland species, forming big clumps where there is open space, and is always a shade-lover. But another habitat is waste ground, where it is commonly accompanied by Hedge Mustard, Nipplewort, and wayside thistles. It is a straggling, spreading plant, with many diverging branches, slender, shining, but stiffly hairy, and vinous red, with swollen nodes. The leaves are opposite, 3-5-parted, with lobes divided into three parts at the back and nearly to the midrib, the segments having a small terminal red spine. There are paired stipules or leaflike organs at the nodes. The flowers are streaked red and white, or white. The flower-stalks are 2-flowered, the sepals closely united, the petals entire and as long as the calyx, which has long awns, and is slightly glandular. The capsules are transversely wrinkled.
The plant grows to a height of 2 ft. The flowers are in evidence for six months from April onwards. Herb Robert is a perennial.
The honey is not protected by a fringe of hairs from the rain in this plant, as in the Meadow Crane's Bill, and the flowers are not so expanded or large as in the latter, but are partly drooping in wet weather, and the corolla is tubular, the petals smooth. The 5 stigmas are adjacent when the plant is in flower, and the 5 outer stamens are quite near them in the centre, and thus protect the honey. The anthers project above them and become covered with pollen. The 5 inner stamens remain bent outwards, and are not in an insect's way. The stigmas expand and separate before the outer stamens wither, and the papillar surface is exposed, though previously hidden. The 5 inner stamens become erect as the outer wither, and surround the style, which elongates, the 5 stigmas standing just above the circle of pollen-covered anthers. At the base of each outer stamen a hollow occurs at the base of each sepal, in which the honey lies, and this is only reached by insects with a tongue 7 mm. long, or those which can thrust the head into the narrow portion of the flower.
Photo. B. Hanley - Herb Robert (geranium Robertianum, L.)
A fly, Rhingia rostrata, with proboscis 11-12 mm., can easily get at the honey. It settles first on one petal, then on another, and in older flowers the proboscis first touches the stigmas, then the ripe anthers, but in younger flowers only the mature anthers.
The flower is visited by Diptera, Syrphidse, Rhingia, Coleoptera, Dasytes, and Lepidoptera, such as Pieris napi, the Green-veined White.
Herb Robert is dispersed by its own agency. The fruit is made up of several carpels, which split up into 1-seeded parts, and the calyx expands and closes up a second time when the seeds are ripe and the carpels split, the seeds being scattered by an explosive movement.1
Emphytus carpini, Amasis obscura (Hymenoptera) live on it.
The plant was called Robertianum, Fuchs, from Robert Duke of Normandy, or from St. Robert.
Its names are numerous: Bird's-eye, Bloodwort, Soldiers' Buttons, Cuckoo-meat, Cuckoo's Eyes, Cuckoo's Victuals, Death-come-quickly, Dog's Toes, Dragon's Blood, Fellow Grass, Fellow-wort, Fox Grass, Garden Gate, Fox, Scotch and Wild Geranium, Herb Robert, Jenny Wren, Kiss Me, Knife and Fork, London Pink, Wild Pink, Ragged Robin, Redbreasts, Red Shank, Redweed, Robert Robin, Robin Flower, Robin Hood, Robin-i'-th'-Hedge, Robin Redbreast, Robin Redshanks, Robin's Eye, Sailor's Knot, Stinking Bob, Stock Bill, Stork's Bill, Wren's Flowers.
Tea was made from it with Ground Ivy and Five-finger Grass. The plant was much used for red rash. Because of the disagreeable smell it was called Fox Geranium. Where it is called Death-come-quickly it is not plucked. Once it was a remedy for gout. The origin of the Geranium is explained thus. The prophet Mohammed one day washed his shirt, threw it upon a mallow plant to dry, but when it was afterwards taken away the sacred contact with the mallow had changed it into a Geranium.
1 When the petals fall the axis lengthens. The 5 seeds at the base of the column enclosed in capsules, rod-like above, form part of the axis at first, but separate. When ripe the carpels become erect, the outer layers of the extremities become tense, and the rods are jerked out and the seeds scattered.
It was called Herba Robertus in the fourteenth century, and Sadroc. It was used as a vulnerary, on the Doctrine of Signatures, because the whole plant is blood-red in colour. It is astringent, and was used for ulcers, scrofula, etc. It has an unpleasant smell when rubbed, and for this reason was considered as a remedy for the unmentionable insects.
Essential Specific Characters: 68. Geranium robertianum, L. - Stem branched, spreading, leaves ternate or quinate, leaflets pinnatifid, flower red or pink, small, sepals hairy, capsule wrinkled, hairy.