What is a Cranesbill?

Alex Tree

Cranesbill, the common name of plants belonging to the genus Geranium, has 422 known species of flowering plants that are considered annuals, biennials, and perennials. Most species can be found in the mountainous areas of the tropics as well as in other temperate regions around the world. Any kind of soil can be home to these garden plants provided that it is not waterlogged.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The name cranesbill is derived from the form of fruit capsule of some species. For pollinated flowers, a kind of mechanism is produced by a beak-like column that opens when ripe and spreads the seeds to a considerable distance. The fruit capsule has five cells containing a single seed each. It is connected to the center of the old flower by a column.

Most cranesbill species have hairy stems and can grow to a maximum height of 2 feet (about 0.6 m). The leaves are often divided into five lobes and arranged in opposite pairs. Flowers have five petals with colors that range from pale pink to rosy purple. These blooms abound during the period of April to June. Brown-tail, mouse moth larvae, and other Lepidoptera species consider cranesbills their food source.

The medicinal properties of cranesbill have been known since the early part of the 19th century. They have been widely used as a remedy for dysentery, diarrhea, and hemorrhage. The parts used for medicinal purposes are the aerial parts, rhizomes, and roots. Rhizomes or underground stems contain tannin, an external agent that has the ability to cause constriction of mucus membranes and the skin. These rhizomes are unearthed in early spring while the aerial parts are usually gathered during summer.

Except for hot and humid areas, cranesbills thrive in light shade to full sun exposure. These flowering plants are easy to maintain and prefer well-drained soil. Fertilizing may be required at the start of the growing season, but extra care is seldom necessary. During summer, the intense heat of the sun may cause the blooms to fade, but cutting of the spent blooms and watering deeply will encourage new blooms to spring forth. A good thing to note about cranesbills is the fact that no diseases or serious pests have been found to cause problems for the species.

For garden use, cranesbills are great in containers, mixed borders, and under small woody trees or shrubs. These colorful blooms are often used in arrangements where they are intertwined with other flowering garden plants. Foliage and buds start to emerge in spring and flowers can last until fall.

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