Geranium | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Geranium, annual, biennial or perennial plant of genus Geranium, family Geraniaceae, with opposite, palmate and often divided leaves.
Bicknells Cranesbill
This member of the geranium family is widespread across Canada (artwork by Claire Tremblay).

Geranium, annual, biennial or perennial plant of genus Geranium, family Geraniaceae [Gk, geranos, "crane"], with opposite, palmate and often divided leaves. Flowers have all parts in fives: 5 green sepals; 5 pink or purple, rarely white, petals; 10 stamens, etc. Its common name, "cranesbill," is derived from characteristic, beaked fruit, which explodes, when ripe, into 5 one-seeded parts which remain attached to a central column.

About 275 species are known worldwide; in Canada, 7 species are native, 5 or 6 have been introduced. Bicknell's cranesbill (G. bicknellii), widespread across Canada in open woods and disturbed soils, is a dainty plant, 10-50 cm high, with small, paired, rose-coloured flowers. Spotted cranesbill (G. maculatum), a perennial plant, 20-60 cm tall, is found in woods, thickets and meadows in Ontario and Québec. It is quite showy with palmate leaves and large, rose-purple flowers. The underground stem (rhizome) is rich in tannin and gallic acid and produces an astringent; hence the common name alum root. Native peoples used the rhizome for diarrhea, dysentery, internal and external bleeding, mouth ulcers and sore throats.

White geranium (G. richardsonii), distinguished by white flowers with purplish veins, grows to 40-80 cm and occupies moist open woods, thickets and alpine meadows from the YT to BC, east to Saskatchewan. Sticky purple geranium (G. viscosissimum), a showy, glandular plant with large, divided leaves and large, reddish purple flowers, grows up to 60 cm and is found in moist meadows in mountains and foothills and moist fescue prairie of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The familiar garden form is not a true geranium but belongs to genus Pelargonium, family Geraniaceae, and is native to South Africa.

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