Pelargonium inquinans

(L.) L'Hér.

Family : Geraniaceae
Common names : scarlet pelargonium ( Eng. ); wilde malva (Afr.)

Flower head

Pelargonium inquinans with its striking flowers will bring colour to your garden throughout the year.

Pelargonium inquinans is a soft, woody shrub with a height of up to 2 m. The leaves are orbicular with crenate or finely toothed margins and have a velvety feel and glands. The branches of this plant are also velvety and glandular as well as soft when they are young. The branches harden when they become older.

Leaves and stems

Flower colour varies from bright red, which is more common, to pale pink. Salmon and even white flowers occur. The upper two petals are slightly smaller and more upright than the lower three petals which are more evenly spaced. Flower heads are formed by clusters of 5-30 flowers. The seeds are oblong with an ovoid head with a corkscrew tail. Five seeds are produced per flower head. This species flowers through out the year.

Pink flowers

Conservation status
Pelargonium inquinans is very common and therefore has no conservation status.

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 areas of S, E and NE Africa, Tristan da Cunha , Madagascar , St Helena Asia, Australia and New Zealand. There are in southern Africa alone, 219 of 270 species.

Pelargonium inquinans has a distribution range from the Eastern Cape to southern Kwazulu-Natal. Its grows on the margin of succulent scrub in soil predominantly with shale. It is also common on the margins of coastal bush. It is very similar to P. zonale , known by the dark marking on the leaves, and both species occur in similar habitats.

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. According to Van der Walt (1977), the phrase ' Folio digitis tacta inquinant colore ferrugineo' was given with the original description of the species. This means that the leaves become rust-coulured or light brown on being touched. The common assumption that inquinans refers to the colour of the flowers is therefore incorrect. Pelargonium inquinans is one of the parent plants of the garden hybrids known as the scarlet geraniums. It was cultivated in England in 1714 by Bishop Compton.

Pelargonium is quite interesting in that attached to the elliptically shaped seed, is a feather-like tail structure that is coiled in a spiral. The tail allows the seed to pierce and secure itself in the soil if twisted around by the wind or by the movement of animals.

Uses and cultural aspects
The scarlet pelargonium's leaves and stems are crushed and used as a headache and flu remedy by local tribes. They also used it as a body deodorant. Pelargoniums are one of the easiest plants to grow. The attractive and striking flower colour makes this species an interesting subject for the garden. It can be planted among smaller herbaceous border plants in a garden bed. It is also suited for container gardening with regular pruning to keep the bush neat and tidy. This species is fairly water-wise and will be suited to any coastal garden.

Growing in the garden

Growing Pelargonium inquinans

This plant species is easy to grow from cuttings. Cuttings can be taken during any time of the year. Soft, herbaceous stem cuttings should be taken and a rooting hormone applied, to stimulate the rooting process. The cuttings should be rooted in a cold frame, in a well-drained medium such as coarse river sand. Rooting will take place within four weeks. Once rooted the cuttings should be potted in a well-drained potting soil. Apply an organic-based fertilizer to encourage further growing before planting in the garden.

Sow the seed. at a depth of 2-3 mm in late summer to autumn (February to March) in a well-drained potting soil. Broadcast the seeds evenly in the seed tray, covering them with a layer of clean, white sand or fine milled pine bark. 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 four weeks. Pelargoniums grown from seed are generally more vigorous than those grown from cuttings; however, they take longer to flower.

References and further reading

  • Gledhill, E. 1981. Eastern Cape veld flowers. The Department of Nature and Environmental Conservation of the Cape Provincial Administration, Cape Town.
  • M anning, J. 2001. Eastern Cape. South African Wild Flower Guide 2. Botanical Society of South Africa , Cape Town.
  • 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.

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