Pelargonium zonale

(L.) L'Hérit.
Family: Geraniaceae (Geranium Family)
Common Name: Horse-shoe pelargonium, Wildemalva
Pelargonium zonale

The flowers of this strikingly beautiful species range from rose pink to all shades of red including pure white. Combined with its decorative rounded foliage, long flowering period and ease in cultivation, it is one of the most rewarding shrubs for the garden.

Pelargonium zonaleDescription
This erect or scrambling softly woody shrub, usually grows up to 1 m but it can reach heights of 3 m. The branches are almost succulent and are usually covered with hairs, while the older stems harden with age. The large leaves are often smooth and a characteristic dark horseshoe-shaped mark is often present. The flower colour ranges from rose-pink to all shades of red as well as pure white. The distinctly irregular flowers are borne in a typically umbel-like inflorescence. Pelargonium zonale flowers throughout the year with a peak in spring (September-November).

This species is widely distributed in southern Africa. It occurs from Piketberg in the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape, and as far north as the Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal, and is particularly common in the coastal areas of the southern Cape. Pelargonium zonale grows naturally in valleys, kloofs and on the margin of indigenous forest as well as rocky outcrops with scrub vegetation. The plants are abundant and often a conspicuous feature.

Paler formDerivation of the name
The genus Pelargonium gets is name from the resemblance of the shape of the fruit to the beak of a stork, pelargos in Greek. The species name zonale refers to the horseshoe marking found on the leaves, zona meaning a band or belt in Latin.

The genus belongs to the family Geraniaceae, which also includes four other genera, Geranium, Erodium, Monsonia and Sarcocaulon. There are ± 220 species within the genus Pelargonium, and 80% of them are confined to southern Africa and about 80% of these are confined to the south-western corner of the country.

Zonal pelargoniums and hybrids are often commonly called geraniums or pot geraniums. This misnomer causes a lot of confusion. What is actually a Pelargonium is also known as a geranium, and what is actually a Geranium, is also commonly called geranium or crane's bill. The two genera are easily told apart and are not mistaken for each other, but a gardener going to a nursery, asking for a geranium, but wanting a pelargonium is going to be surprised when shown a plant of Geranium multisectum when they are expecting to see Pelargonium zonale.

Pelargonium zonale is a parent of many of the zonal pelargonium hybrids grown all over the world and is an integral part of any pelargonium breeding program.

Growing Pelargonium zonale

Scrambling up into a treePelargonium zonale is an easy plant to grow, and does best in gardens where frost is not too severe. It requires semi-shade to full sun conditions. The plants should be pruned after flowering, and respond very well to feeding with liquid organic fertilizers. They look very effective when used as the back planting of a bed to form the main structure of the design. Pelargonium zonale also grows well in containers.

Pelargonium zonale is usually propagated by means of tip or stem cuttings, or seed. The optimum time for taking cuttings is in autumn (March-May) and spring (September-November). Cuttings should be cut below a node and dipped into a suitable rooting hormone. The cuttings should then be places in trays filled with coarse river sand. The medium should be pre-treated with a fungicide as preventative measure for fungal attack. These cuttings should then be placed into cold frames for rooting.
Seed can be sown in spring, summer or autumn.


VAN DER WALT J. J. A, 1977. Pelargoniums of Southern Africa, Vol. 1. Juta: Cape Town
Ernst van Jaarsveld, Personal Communication.

Ebrahim Lawrence
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
November 2002

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