This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
Herbs, often shrubby. This genus is distinguished from the preceding by its usually umbellate irregular flowers, in which the petals are dissimilar, and in the upper sepal being furnished with a spur, which is adnate to the pedicel. There are about 170 species of this genus; with the exception of 3 North African and Oriental species, 2 or 3 Australasian species, and 1 or 2 from St. Helena, all are natives of South Africa. Name from a stork, in reference to the beaked carpels.
Although none of the members of this genus are hardy in England, we introduce it here because so many are grown for the Summer embellishment of gardens. These are popularly termed Geraniums. We must limit ourselves to a short notice of the principal species, which have given birth to the numerous beautiful varieties now in cultivation. The species have been so variously intercrossed and recrossed that it is impossible to refer some of the varieties with any degree of certainty to this or that species; but there are several tolerably well-defined races or classes of varieties. Pelargoniums have been cultivated now upwards of 150 years, and English gardeners may claim the credit of having contributed more towards their improvement than the gardeners of all other nations collectively. It does not come within our province to enumerate varieties or even to discriminate all the classes founded by horticulturists. Information of this description is better drawn from the annual catalogues of the principal florists. The 'Show' and 'Fancy' Pelargoniums are the descendants of P. grandiflo-rum, and some other species; but as they are not usually employed out of doors we must dismiss them without further comment.
1. P. inquinans (fig. 58). Scarlet Pelargonium.- This is the most important species, and the basis of nearly all the best varieties in cultivation. The habit of the plant as well as the form of the petals of this is superior to that of the following. Naturally it is an undershrub with large reniform green indistinctly zoned leaves, rather soft to the touch, and exhaling when rubbed an aromatic odour which is unpleasant to some persons. The petals are broad, bright scarlet, and the flowers produced in large umbels 15 to 30 together. The varieties include every tint of scarlet, pink, rose, salmon, and cream, to pure white, with many magnificent double ones.
Fig. 58. Pelargonium inquinans. (1/4 nat. size.)
2. P. zonale (fig. 59). Zonal Pelargonium. - A smaller species than the preceding, having the leaves strongly zoned, and the petals much narrower, of a deep carmine. Most of the better varieties, showing the characteristics of this species, are of quite recent origin. The 'Tricolors,' such as Mrs.
Pollock and Sunset, etc., appear to be intermediate between this and the foregoing species.
Fig. 59. Pelargonium zonale. (1/4 nat. size.)
3. P. peltatum. Ivy - leaved Pelargonium. - A prostrate trailing shrubby species with slender branches. Leaves 5-lobed, glabrous, shining, fleshy, with a narrow zone in the centre. Flowers comparatively large, white or rose veined with purple. A beautiful species for bordering, and especially for vases and baskets. Within the last two or three years several very elegant and beautiful new varieties of this species have been raised, some with variegated leaves, and others developing a greater choice of colour in the flowers.
We can scarcely leave this genus without an allusion to those species with sweet-scented foliage, P. capitatum, P. graveolens, and P. quercifolium.