Pelargonium capitatum

(L.) L'Hér.
Family : Geraniaceae
Common names : rose-scented pelargonium ( Eng. ); kusmalva (Afr.)


This pelargonium is cultivated for its rose scented oil.

Pelargonium capitatum is a shrubby or bushy, low-growing plant. It grows to a height of ± 0.3 m and about 1.5 m wide. The sprawling or erect stems of the plant are soft-wooded. Individual side branches can grow to a length of 0.6 m. The stems and leaves are sweetly scented when bruised, and are covered with long, soft hairs of variable density. The flowers are pink. P. capitatum flowers from September to October.

Leaves, buds and developing seed heads.

Distribution and Habitat
The genus Pelargonium belongs to the family Geraniaceae , a large family of 11 genera and 800 species in the subtropical and tropical world. Pelargonium occurs in S, E and NE Africa , Asia , St Helena , Tristan da Cunha, Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand; 219 of the 270 species occur in southern Africa.

The rose-scented pelargonium occurs from Lamberts Bay, all along the coast, through the Eastern Cape to KwaZulu-Natal . Its grows well on sand dunes or low hillsides near the coast. Pelargonium capitatum is commonly found growing in disturbed areas.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
The genus Pelargonium derives its name from the resemblance of the shape of the fruit to the beak of a stork, pelargos in Greek. The species name capitatus (Latin), refers to the head-like (capitate) inflorescence. Bentick introduced P. capitatum to Britain in 1690.

Uses and cultural aspects
The rose-scented p elargonium is cultivated for its oil of geranium. The sweetly scented leaves are a wonderful skin softener. The leaves can be rubbed into the hands to soothe calluses and scratches, into heels to soften horny, cracked skin and can be tied to a piece of muslin and used in the bath as a skin and wash treatment which also soothes rashes. A tea made from leaves was an old remedy used by people from the Cape to treat kidney and bladder ailments, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and flatulence.

Growing Pelargonium capitatum

Pelargonium capitatum can easily be grown from seeds and cuttings. Cuttings can be grown at any time of the year. Soft, herbaceous stem cuttings should be taken and a rooting hormone applied to it to stimulate the rooting process. The cuttings are then placed in a coldframe to root. Rooting of this species usually takes about three weeks. Once the cuttings have rooted they can then be potted in a well-drained potting soil mix.

Pelargoniums can also be grown from seed in late summer and early autumn. The seed of pelargoniums is quite interesting in that attached to the elliptically shaped seed, is a feathered, tail-like structure that is coiled in a spiral. The tail allows the seed to drill and secure itself in the soil if twisted around by the wind or affected by the movement of animals. Sow the seed in a light, well-drained potting soil. Broadcast the seeds evenly in the seed tray, covering them with a layer of clean, white sand. The depth of sowing is usually one-and-a-half times the size of the seed. Water thoroughly but gently and provide light shade. Germination usually takes place within three weeks. Pelargoniums grown from seed are generally more vigorous than those made of cuttings; however, they take longer to flower. The plant grows easily in a coastal garden that has sandy soil conditions. It can be planted among smaller herbaceous border plants in a garden bed. It is also suited for terra force walls.

References and further reading

  • Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the Cape flora of South Africa . Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town and Missouri Botanical Garden.
  • Roberts, M. 1990. Indigenous healing plants. Southern Book Publishers, Halfway House, Gauteng, South Africa.
  • Van der Walt, J. J. 1977. Pelargoniums of southern Africa. Purnell, Cape Town.

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To find out if SANBI has seed of this or other SA species, please email our seedroom.

This page forms part of the South African National Biodiversity Institute's plant information website