Welsh, Pig y aran. - French, Geranium, Bee de grue. - German, Storchschnadel. - Italian, Geranio. - Spanish, Geranio. - Illyric, Babino xilice (G. molle), Igliza, Igla, Pastirska (G. Robertianum), Iljca, etc. - Arabic, Temayr (G. tuberosum), Murghayt, Gurna.
Monadelphia. (Pentandria.) Decandria.
Geraniaceae. Geranium. Erodium. Pelargonium.
The wild geraniums are not to be confounded with the so-called geraniums of our gardens, which, though of the order of the geraniaceae, belong to the sub-division pelargonium; and it is well known that the five petals both of the geraniums and erodiums are all of the same size, and frequently of aspect also; while the inferior petals of the pelargoniums are smaller than the other two, and of a different character. These last, which grow in great profusion at the Cape of Good Hope, have been extensively introduced into our gardens, where they are admired for their variety and beauty; but still our own humble geraniums have a beauty of their own, and when wild in their native localities we bestow on them almost as much admiration as on our garden favourites. Neither the British nor the African species appear to lay much claim to economic usefulness; and even in Withering's "Arrangement of British Plants"* - that rich repository of the household, or industrial uses of our native-plants - we only find that the family generally "attract a variety of flies;" though one, the (G. Robertianum, is recorded as a "vulnerary and abstergent," Such is the judgment too often passed, without further examination, on many things simply because they are beautiful; and certain it is that if uses be not sought, they will not be found.
Very differently did the ancients view the tribe, which, in spite of their attractive charms for the flies, they employed as (what the old translator of Pliny terms) "a singular medicine for the phthysick;" adding, that "it is a rare hearbe,"† being a restorative for those "weakened and decaied in nature by long sicknesse;" while the juice of the root was considered a panacea for all complaints of the ears; and the seeds, mixed with pepper and myrrh, were administered in cases of spinal, or other, cramp. Indeed, in our own days, the crane's bills are successfully given in nervous complaints, and in the form of an infusion, to check haemorrhages - not, however, on the doctrine of signatures, by which, as Sir John Hill informs us, this power is declared because the dying leaves assume so beautiful a sanguine hue. In fact, it cannot be supposed that a tribe of plants possessing such marked resinous, aromatic, and astringent qualities, should be simply harmless, or inefficacious. The root of the G. maculatum, which is sold under the name of alum-root, is a powerful astringent, and is even said to contain more tannin than kino;* and, finally, the tuberous roots, of such species as possess them, are frequently used for food.
One of these (the G. tuberosum), grows in the eastern deserts of Egypt, where the Arabs eat its roots. It is called by them temayr; but is unknown in the valley of the Nile.
* Seventh edition.
† Hollande's "Pliny." The words singular and rare in the above passages are, of course, not to be read as we now use them, but as applying to the great value of the plant.
So resinous are some species of the geranium, that the stems will burn like torches, yielding an agreeable and refreshing perfume. Several of the true geraniums have blossoms closely resembling those of the mallow, though they are far more beautiful. Amongst these may be mentioned the Geranium Sanguineum, which grows in such glorious profusion on our Western limestone coasts;† purpling over crag and broken earth-bank; or flourishing amidst the close-cropped herbage of the mountain sheep-walks, with a beauty which - in conjunction with the somewhat mallow-like form of its blossoms - seems to connect it with the Eastern notion, that geraniums were at first simply mallows, until Mohammed, delighted with the fine texture of a shirt made for him of mallow-fibres, turned that plant into the more beautiful geranium. ‡ If our hedgerows and waste places throughout the greater part of the year. The origin of the English name of this plant is unknown; but it is certainly older far than the date of any botanical professor at Oxford, though generally stated to have been named in honour of one who bore the name of Roberts.
* See Balfour's "Manual of Botany." Third edition, † In other localities it is well known as a garden plant. ‡This tale is told with variations; some assert that his so, the change has greatly lessened its useful qualities. This geranium is the only British species whose peduncles are one-flowered.
There are twelve other species in Britain, of which, perhaps, the most common is the herb Robert (G. robertianum), whose small bright blossoms deck shirt was spread to dry on a mallow-plant, and that when taken up the transformation had occurred.
Herb Robert. - Geranium Robertianum.