Pelargonium ribifolium


Family : Geraniaceae

Common name : currant-leaved pelargonium


This is beautiful aromatic white-flowered pelargonium for any spring garden.

Pelargonium ribifolium is a much branched evergreen shrub. It has an erect growth habit, 2 m high and 1 m in diameter. The stems are smooth and herbaceous when young. The base of the stem is woody and thickly covered with glandular green hairs.

The aromatic leaves are 3-lobed with toothed margins, numerous glandular hairs, and are hard to the touch. They are often sticky.

The flowers, 20 mm in diameter, are white with red markings on the two upper petals. The three anterior petals are also occasionally marked. The currant-leaved pelargonium flowers at irregular intervals throughout the year but has a peak period from September to November.

This species can easily be mistaken for Pelargonium scabrum, but the leaves of P. ribifolium are more round, and P. scabrum has pink flowers.

Conservation status
Pelargonium ribifolium is listed on the Red List of South African plants (Raimondo et al. 2009) as Least Concern. A taxon is Least Concern when it has been evaluated against the five IUCN criteria and does not qualify for the categories Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened.

Distribution and habitat
This pelargonium species is found in the southern regions of the Western and Eastern Cape. It is more common in the Eastern Cape. The distribution is the mountain ranges from the Swartberg Pass in the Oudtshoorn area eastwards to as far as Katberg in the Fort Beaufort area, a distance of more than 400 km. It prefers fairly moist habitats, and this explains its distribution pattern, as the mountainous regions experience higher rainfall than lower lying areas. Pelargonium ribifolium is often found on the margins of freshwater streams. It grows in direct sun but is tolerant of shade and is found in partially or completely shaded areas as well. The soil is usually acid and sandy, often with a considerable amount of organic matter.

Derivation of name and historical aspects
Indigenous species of Pelargonium have played a vital role in the development of ornamental hybrid pelargoniums.

The genus is commonly and incorrectly known as Geranium. Pelargonium ribifolium belongs in the Geraniaceae family, a large family of approximately 11 genera and 800 species in subtropical and temperate regions of the world. There are approximately 270 species of Pelargonium which occur in S, E and NE Africa, Asia, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha, Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand; most of them (219 species) occur in southern Africa.

The genus Pelargonium gets is name from the resemblance of the shape of the fruit to the beak of a stork, pelargos in Greek, while the specific name ribifolium, which means ‘currant-leaved, refers to Ribes , a genus which includes the currants of the northern hemisphere and is placed in the family Grossulariaceae

. The currant-leaved pelargonium was possibly established in Europe in the late 18 th century as a garden plant. Nikolaus Joseph Freiherr von Jacquin, a Dutch botanist, described it in 1794 from living plants grown in the Schönbrunn garden in Vienna. The description of the plant was accompanied by an excellent coloured engraving. The Natural History Museum's herbarium in Vienna, which houses Jacquin's dried collection, contains a herbarium specimen of Pelargonium ribifolium with the name inscribed in Jacquin's handwriting. This is considered the specimen on which he based his description of the species.

The seed is adapted to wind dispersal; it is light in weight and has a feathered, spiral, tail-like attachment. When the seed lands and there is sufficient water in the soil, the tail acts like a drill, twisting the seed into the soil so that the seed can anchor itself in the ground and prevent itself from being blown away, or carried away on moving animals.

Uses and cultural aspects
There are no known cultural aspects linked to Pelargonium ribifolium . Pelargoniums grow throughout South Africa in a wide range of habitats. It is impossible to set down one set of growing conditions to suit all species. This Pelargonium prefers a fairly moist part or piece of the garden. In the Western Cape the best time to plant, is during the rainy months of winter to allow plants to establish themselves before the warm, dry summers. This plant is easily adapted to a sunny, semi-shady or shady spot in your garden. The shrub requires regular watering to maintain optimal growth. Pruning the plants after the flowering period will keep them neat and vigorous. If they are healthy, the pruned branches can be used for cuttings. The soil pH is not an important factor as a neutral or slightly low pH is suitable. The plant grows extremely tall, so plant it at the back of your herbaceous border.

Flowers close up

Growing Pelargonium ribifolium

Pelargonium ribifolium can be propagated from both seeds and cuttings.

Stems, 100 to 150 mm long, can be taken at any time of the year from a healthy plant. Select softwood or semi-mature growth from the mother plant. The plant material selected should also be free of pests and diseases. Remove any flowers present on the stems as well. The use of a rooting powder will speed up the rooting, especially for the softwood cuttings. Place the cuttings in river sand in cold frames and keep them moist. If you do not have cold frames, then a well lit, warm area in the garden will do. The cuttings should root in 2–4 weeks. Give the rooted cuttings a 2–3 week weaning or hardening-off period and transplant them into a well-drained potting soil mix and place them in a sunny position. Feed with an organic-based liquid fertilizer. It is good practice to pinch or cut out the growing tip of newly potted cuttings. As soon as the plants are strong enough for the garden, they can be planted out.

Sow seeds in late summer to early autumn. The seed should be sown in a light, well-drained potting mix. Sow the seeds evenly in the seed tray and cover them with fine white sand or fine-milled pine bark. Water the seeds gently but thoroughly with a fine rose spray and place them in light shade with no direct sun. Seed germinates in 2–3 weeks. Happy gardening.

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, Pretoria & Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Missouri.
  • Raimondo, D., Von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. & Manyama, P.A. (eds) 2009. Red List of South African plants 2009. Strelitzia 25 . South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.
  • Van der Walt, J.J.A. et al . 1981. Pelargoniums of southern Africa , vol. 2. Juta, Cape Town.
  • Vlok, J. & Schutte-Vlok, A.L. 2010. Plants of the Klein Karoo . Umdaus Press, South Africa.


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