Scented Geraniums

Filed Under: Culinary Herbs, Fragrant Herbs, Ornamental Herbs, Xeriscape Herbs

Scented geraniums are fragrant-leaved, woody-based, tender perennials of the genus Pelargonium. As such they are members of the larger Geranium Family (Geraniaceae), which makes scented geraniums close relatives of the common bedding geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum) and distant relatives of the true hardy perennial geraniums (genus Geranium). Scented geraniums were widely grown in the Victorian era for use in perfumery, potpourris, and occasionally for cooking. Among modern herb and cottage garden enthusiasts they are enjoying a resurgence in vogue and make easy-care, fragrant houseplants and bedding plants, readily propagated by cuttings and adaptable to containers, windowboxes, and hanging baskets.

Most grow 1 to 4 feet tall and wide, smaller if their root zones are severely restricted (as they are in small pots). Drought- and heat-tolerant, none are hardy in climates colder than Zone 9. The flowers of most types are small, held in loose clusters, ripening to beaked fruits; in some cultivars the flowers have been bred for larger size and showier colors, though none approaches the common garden geranium for floriferousness or color impact. In addition to being fragrant, scented geranium leaves are also attractively textured. They make welcome additions to gardens for the blind. Give good air circulation and water only when the soil surface is dry.

SCENTED GERANIUMS IN HISTORY & FOLKLORE

The rose-scented geraniums, Pelargonium Graveolens Group, are cultivated for their essential perfume oil, obtained through water-vapor distillation of the leaves and flowering green parts. Principal producers of this perfume are China, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, France, Madagascar, Réunion Island, and Algeria. The scent of the essential oil produced varies depending on its origin and the variety of plant employed; that of North Africa is light and tends toward more of a true rose scent, while the oil from Réunion has a more minty and fruity aroma. Rose geranium oil contains citronnellol, geraniol, iso-menthone, linalol, and other chemicals; they confer on it antifungal, antidepressant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties. It has also been used for hormonal difficulties. Commercial perfumes that contain rose geranium oil include “Brut” by Fabergé; “Calèche” by Hermès; “Égoïste” by Chanel; and “Jazz” by Yves St.-Laurent.

ROSE-SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

Rose scented geraniums have always been the most popular of the scented leaf types, and essential oils extracted from their foliage are important perfume industry commodities. The leaves have been used to scent apple jellies and pound cakes.

Pelargonium x asperum: Hybrid group now containing many cultivars previously consigned to other species.

  • P. x asperum ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’: Also listed as P. graveolens var. variegata ‘Grey Lady Plymouth’. Silvery grey-green, finely cut leaves, slightly variegated in cream and nicely rose scented; pink blossoms.

Pelargonium capitatum, Capetown, South Africa.

Pelargonium ‘Candy Dancer’: 24″ tall x 18″ wide. Upright, semi-arching plants bear deeply cut, serrated, mid-green leaves richly scented of rose and candy. The small flowers are mauve to light pink. Hillfoot Plants Nursery, U.K., recommends the plant for use in cooking, fragrance crafts, and bath preparations.

Pelargonium capitatum (Rose-Scented Geranium; Kusmalva): Spreading, weakly upright, softly hairy plant, 2-3 feet tall by about the same wide, native to southern South Africa’s sandy Cape region. The velvety, sweetly rose-scented leaves are heart-shaped at base and shallowly to deeply lobed with 3 to 5 lobes each, .8-3.2″ wide, connected to their branches by 1.5″ long leaf-stems. The blossoms are mauve-pink, held in dense clusters of 8-20 flowers each; the upper two petals are veined in darker pink. The flowers appear from September to October in the wild, where it is most commonly found in disturbed areas.

Introduced to Britain in 1690, the species is called muskát vonny´ in Czech. According to Plantzafrica, P. capitatum‘s leaves are widely used locally as skin softeners, rubbed into the hands to soothe calluses and scratches; into heels to soften horny, cracked skin; or used in the bath to soothe rashes. Adds Plantzafrica, “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, diarrhea and flatulence.”

Named cultivars and/or hybrids include:

  • P. capitatum ‘Attar of Roses’: 1.5′ tall x 2.5′ wide. Large rough trilobed green leaves with stronger rose fragrance than that of the species, set off by clusters of maroon-throated lilac-pink blossoms. Also listed as P. c. ‘Attar of Rose’ or simply P. ‘Attar of Roses’.
  • P. capitatum ‘Round-Leaf Rose’: Compact, fast-growing plants bear nearly round green leaves to 3″ wide with good rose scent. The flowers are pink, on 4″-long stems.
  • P. capitatum ‘True Capitatum’: Round, soft green, rose-scented leaves on a spreading plant. The scent can be highly variable. Pink flowers and decorative seed pods. Has been recommended for hanging baskets.

Pelargonium Graveolens Group in blossom at Strybing Arboretum, 2005

Pelargonium Graveolens Group (Rose Geranium; Sweet-Scented Geranium; Wildemalva): Syn. P. terebinthinaceum; P. therebinthinaceum Cav. Upright, downy subshrub to 4′ tall and wide with triangular, 1.6″ x 2.4″, feathery, deeply lobed, rough-textured leaves strongly scented of roses and spice or roses and lemon. This cultivar is known in France as le géranium rosat, in Germany as die Rosen-Pelargonie; and was first described and named by the botanist L’Hériteau in 1792. Some botanical confusion here; many cultivars assigned to the Graveolens Group may in fact be hybrids of P. capitatum and P. radens. Named cultivars and/or hybrids include:

  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Atomic Snowflake’: 1′ tall x 2.5′ wide. Large, soft, shallowly lobed, gold-edged green leaves scented strongly of rose and lemon; purplish-pink blossoms. Recommended for large hanging baskets.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Both’s Snowflake’: 12-24″ tall and wide. Upright to sprawling plants bear deeply divided rose-scented green leaves that sparkle with irregular creamy-white variegation.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Bourbon Rose’: 2′ tall x 3′ wide. Tall plants bear very large leaves with a rich rose perfume; the medium-sized, rose-purple flowers are borne in clusters.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Camphor Rose’: See “Mint Scented Geranium Varieties” below.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Charmay Snowflurry’: Compact, fast-growing variety with rounded, somewhat ruffled, rose-scented leaves cleanly variegated in bright white; pinkish flowers.
  • P. Graveolens Group Group ‘Chicago Rose’: Vigorous easy-to-grow plants bear rounded green leaves, sometimes tinged bronze, strongly scented of roses. A great scented geranium for beginners and for topiary work! Pink blossoms.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Golden Snowflake’: Fast-growing variety with pinkish flowers and rounded, strongly rose-scented, ruffled green leaves edged in gold. Beautiful.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Little Gem’: Pinkish flowers and green ferny leaves with strong rosy scent on compact plants. Makes a good topiary specimen.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Little Pet’: See “Pungent Scented Geranium Varieties” below.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Luciflora’: Green ferny leaves with downward-curling tips, very sweetly rose-scented. Hard to find variety.
  • P. Graveolens Group’Mint Rose’: See “Mint Scented Geranium Varieties” below.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Ocean Wave’: Beautiful, wavy dark green leaves, moderately rose-scented, and pale pink blossoms in abundance. Very pretty.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Peacock’: Very large, white-marked, wavy-edged, rose-scented green leaves and pink flowers.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Shrubland Rose’: Mildly rose-scented variety with heavy dark green ruffled leaves and large, 1.5″ wide flowers in deep scarlet with darker veins. Very attractive.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Silverleaf Rose’: Silver and green rose-scented foliage and pink flowers. Very fragrant.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Snowflake’: 12-18″ tall x 10-18″ wide. Fast-growing variety with pinkish blossoms and large, rounded, softly lobed, lightly ruffled green or mid-green leaves variegated in white and cream. The plants is beautifully scented of rose or lemon and rose.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘True Rose’: Heirloom variety with wonderful rose fragrance and lots of lilac-pink blossoms. Very popular with crafters.
  • P. Graveolens Group ‘Variegata’ (Variegated Mint-Scented Rose Geranium): To 2′ tall, with pink flowers and white-variegated green leaves scented of peppermint and rose.

P. radens in the wild.

Pelargonium ‘Lara Ballerina’: 30″ tall x 30″ wide. Upright, spreading, strongly rose-scented plants bear smokey, grey-green, deeply divided, medium to large leaves and unusual semidouble salmon pink blossoms throughout the summer.

Pelargonium radens (Rasp-Leaved Pelargonium, Multifid-Leaved Pelargonium, Crowfoot Geranium, Skeleton Leaf Rose Geranium, Crow’s Feet): Syn. P. multifida; P. radula; P. raduloides; P. revolutum; P. roseum. To 3′+ tall and wide in the wild, this vigorous, upright, densely branched, bristly, drought-tolerant South African native is characterized by very deeply cut, triangular, rose-scented grey-green leaves to 2.5″ long, their edges rolled under. From August to January appear clusters of 2-4 small, narrowly rounded, pinkish-purple blossoms with notched tips and darker purple markings on their upper two petals, followed by small curly-tailed brownish seeds. Native to the Western and Eastern Capes of South Africa. The species is called pelargonie ruzová in Czech. Many cultivars listed as derived from P. graveolens may in fact be hybrids of P. radens and P. capitatum. Cultivars and/or hybrids include:

  • P. radens ‘Dr. Livingston’: See “Lemon-Scented Geranium Varieties” below.
  • P. radens ‘Old Fashioned Rose’: Vigorous plants with deeply cut, richly scented green leaves; their perfume has been likened to that of the flowers of Rosa rugosa. Lilac-pink bicolor blossoms. Very popular for scent crafts.
  • P. radens ‘Red-Flowered Rose’: Lacy, grey-green, rose-scented leaves with fingerlike segments, overtopped with numerous red blossoms. Very drought-tolerant variety (don’t overwater).
  • P. radens ‘Radula’: Leaves less finely divided than in the species, and less pungent in scent; small purplish-pink blossoms. Also listed under P. graveolens.

CITRUS SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

The mosquito attractor plant.

Pelargonium BirdBush Series: Compact bushes in a variety of fragrances, bred by U.K.’s B. White. The series includes:

  • P. ‘BirdBush Bobby’: Green, curly, rounded leaves have a delicate lime fragrance; the flowers are showy, pale mauve with plum veins and narrow spiky bottom petals. Hillfoot Plants Nursery recommends using the leaves chopped atop baked salmon.
  • P. ‘BirdBush Bold & Beautiful’: 18″ tall x 18″ wide. Pale- to mid-green, deeply divided leaves on an upright, stiff-stemmed, bushy plant exude an aroma that White likens to peach and others liken to citrus. Clear pink flowers.
  • P. ‘BirdBush Julie Anne’: 18″ tall x 18″ wide. Mid-green leaves with zesty lemon fragrance on upright, bushy plants. Pale lilac flowers with contrasting plum red veins.
  • P. ‘BirdBush Kay Lye’: 18″ tall x 18″ wide. Bright, roughly cut, mid-green leaves with strong lemon fragrance on upright, bushy plants. Pink flowers with vivid pink throat veining are carried over a long period. Makes a good house plant.
  • P. ‘BirdBush Lemonside’: 18″ tall x 18″ wide. Coarsely textured, dark green leaves with a sweet lemon aroma on vigorous, upright, bushy plants. The flowers are creamy white to mauve, shaded burgundy, contrasting nicely with the dark foliage.
  • Pelargonium ‘BirdBush Miriam’: See “Fruit Scented Pelargonium Varieties” below.
  • P. ‘BirdBush Nutty’: 18″ tall x 18″. Upright plants bear deeply cut, light green leaves; with age the foliage becomes much more dense and develops sometimes a two-tone appearance. The breeder claims the leaves smell like roasted almonds; to others they smell like citrus. Growth is so thick that some thinning of inner branches and leaves may be necessary to keep shed leaves from building up inside the plant.

Pelargonium ‘Brilliantine’: 8″ tall x 10″ wide. Wonderfully compact windowsill variety with small, crisped, velvety grey-green leaves and elegant light purple blossoms borne on protruding stems over a long period in summer. The entire plant is wonderfully scented of eau-de-cologne.

Pelargonium ‘Charmay Snowflake’: 12″ tall x 18″ wide. Lemon balm scented leaves on a dense, compact plant are green with irregular cream variegation sometimes covering the entire leaf. Flowers are pinkish to mauve.

Pelargonium ‘Citronella’: Much divided dark green leaves, powerfully scented of citronella, on a robust plant. Lots of small, bright pink flowers in summer. Citronella scented lemon geraniums are marketed as mosquito repellents, but in fact attract mosquitoes in droves. Possibly the same plant referred to at Plantzafrica as P. citronellum.

Pelargonium “Citrosa”: May be the same as as ‘Citronella’ above.

Pelargonium crispum (Lemon-Scented Geranium): Syn. P. crassifolium; P. strictum. 14-27″ tall x 6-10″+ wide. Native to South Africa’s southernmost tip. Upright to lolling, multibranched lemon-scented shrub with brownish hairs and dotted oil glands on woody stems. The leaves are heart-shaped at base, tightly curled, rough, hairy and oil-gland-dotted, with 3 toothed or serrated lobes or sections. From spring to summer or summer to fall the pale mauve flowers are held singly or in pairs, the two upper petals broadly spoon-shaped, the lower petals slender. Let dry between waterings; give warmth and good air circulation. The species is called muskát stojaty´in Czech. Named varieties and/or hybrids include:

  • P. crispum ‘Crispum Latifolium’: Syn. P. crispum ‘Cinnamon’. Compact variety, 1.5″ tall and wide, with small, crisped leaves scented of lemon and lime with a hint of spice. Flowers are purplish pink. Recommended for hanging baskets if left unpruned.
  • P. crispum ‘French Lace’: See P. crispum ‘Variegated Prince Rupert’ below.
  • P. crispum ‘Lemon Crispum’: Dwarf, upright green plants with 1/2″ crisped leaves and pale pink flowers. The plant is deliciously lemon scented.
  • P. crispum ‘Major’: Larger leaved variety.
  • P. crispum ‘Minor’: Stiff, upright variety with very small crisped leaves.
  • P. crispum ‘Peace Cream’: See ‘Fruit & Spice Scented Varieties’ below.
  • P. crispum ‘Prince Rupert’: Upright plants with .5-1.5″ ruffled green leaves and bicolor rose blossoms. Very sweetly lemon scented; recommended for standards.
  • P. crispum var. aurea ‘Golden Lemon Crispum’: Syn. P. crispum ‘French Lace’. Dwarf, upright plants with 1/2″ crisped leaves, edged in gold and deep green within. Pale pink flowers. The plant is deliciously lemon scented.
  • P. crispum ‘Variegated Prince Rupert’: 14-18″ tall x 5-6″ wide. Beautiful lacy green, cream-edged leaves on a compact bush. Nicely lemon-scented. Also listed as P. crispum ‘Variegatum’ (Variegated Lemon-Scented Geranium) and P. ‘French Lace’.

Pelargonium cucullatum blossom

Pelargonium cucullatum (Wild Malva; Hooded-Leaf Pelargonium; Tree Pelargonium): One of the parents of the modern bedding geranium, this species is an upright, woody-stemmed, branched, hairy subshrub to 6′+ tall, bearing thick 2-3″ rounded to triangular leaves, hooded or cupshaped, toothed or sometimes lobed. Their margins are tinted in red and they are pungently lemon scented. For a month or two between September and February, the flowers are held in stiff-stemmed heads of five, with broad purplish-pink petals, the upper two dark-veined. Native to southwestern South Africa; introduced into cultivation in England in 1690. According to Plantzafrica, “Traditionally this pelargonium was used medicinally to cure colic, kidney ailments, diarrhoea, coughs and fevers. The leaves were used as a poultice for bruises, stings and abscesses. In the nineteenth century it was used as a hedge-row ornamental in Cape Town. It is also useful as a cut flower as the branches last for many weeks in water.”

Pelargonium ‘Dorcas Bingham’: 15-24″ tall x 15″ wide. Glossy, round, mid-green, serrated leaves on stiff, upright, vigorous plants; lilac to white flowers in summer. The plant is sweetly scented of lime. Easy-care.

Pelargonium ‘Frensham’: Hybrid of P. ‘Mabel Grey’ (see below). Robust plants are powerfully lemon scented. Pinkish and mauve flowers are borne in showy clusters in summer.

Pelargonium ‘Gemstone’: 18-24″ tall x to 30″ wide. Upright, bushy plants bear mid-green, rough-textured, lobed leaves strongly scented of lemon. The striking, showy blossoms are borne in pink to red clusters over a very long period.

Pelargonium ‘Grace Thomas’: To 3′ tall x 3′ wide. Very large, upright, bushy green plants bear large, deeply divided, pointed leaves sweetly scented of lemon and lime with raspberry undertones. The blossoms are white to very pale pink with raspberry blotches and veins. Bred by Roger Thomas of Kent, England.

Pelargonium Graveolens Group ‘Lara Nomad’: 30″ tall x 30″ wide. Strongly, stiffly upright plants bear rough-textured, two-tone green leaves strongly scented of lemon; the showy flowers are white with pinkish-red blotches and feathering on the upper petals. Recommended for use in fish cookery.

Pelargonium Graveolens Group ‘Rober’s Lemon Rose’: 3′+ tall x 3′+ wide. Vigorous cultivar, about18-20″ tall x 8-10″ wide when confined to a pot indoors, with soft, grey-green, scalloped, trilobed, deeply divided leaves and clusters of long-stemmed, small, pale pink to light mauve flowers with darker feathering on their upper petals. Rose-scented with undertones of lemon.

Pelargonium grossularioides (Gooseberry-Leaved Pelargonium, Rooirabas, Rooirabassam, Rooistingelhoutbas): Syn. P. ‘Coconut-Scented’. 6″ tall x 8-12″ wide. Short-lived, weakly upright to spreading plants, more or less hairless, with red stems and long internodes. The small, crinkly, lobed and toothed, 1.6″ x 2″ deep green leaves are variegated heavily in creamy yellow and possess a lemonish scent. The tiny star-shaped flowers are held spring to summer in dense clusters of 3 to 50 blossoms; they are colored pale pink to deep magenta-purple, the two upper petals dark-blotched. Native to southern and southeast Africa, from the southwestern Cape District of South Africa north into Mozambique; the species is also found on the island of Tristan da Cunha. Says Plantzafrica, “In the past, the Cape Malay people used to use decoctions of this plant for pregnant women. At times it was used to abort a foetus, or to hurry the process of confinement and was also helpful in expelling the placenta.” Sometimes listed as the “Coconut Geranium,” though its scent does not resemble that of the coconut in the least, no matter what the AHS Encyclopedia of Garden Plants says. Best in damp soils, it makes a good groundcover or container plant.

Pelargonium ‘Hansen’s Wild Spice’: 18″ tall x 18″ wide. Upright, shapely plants bear attractive, smooth, toothed-edged green leaves strongly scented of citrus and spice; the largish flowers come in different shades of pink with darker upper-petal blotching. Semitrailing if left unpruned; makes a good hanging basket plant.

Pelargonium ‘Lemon Fancy’: 12-15″ tall x 12″ wide. Compact, upright, bushy variety bears light green, shallowly and roundedly serrated leaves, strongly and sweetly scented of lemon. The blossoms are pale pink, blotched and feathered reddish-purple on their upper petals. Hybridized by H. Bowie, U.K., 1979.

Pelargonium ‘Lemon Meringue’: Probably a sport of P. ‘Mabel Grey’ (see below). Strong lemon fragrance.

Pelargonium ‘Lime’: 12-18″ tall x 8-10″ wide. Smooth, toothed, lime-scented green leaves and 1.5″ clusters of pale lavender flowers in summer.

Sweet 'Mabel Grey'

Pelargonium ‘Mabel Grey’: 12-14″ tall x 5-6″ wide. Discovered in Kenya in 1960, this stiffly upright variety bears ridged, two-toned, serrated, medium to large, mapleleaf-shaped, intensely lemon verbena scented leaves and pale pink to light purple blossoms in summer, blotched and feathered in plum on their upper petals. Requires frequent applications of fertilizer and good air circulation. Let soil dry between waterings. Also listed as P. citronellum ‘Mabel Grey’. One of the most highly scented of the pelargoniums. Makes a nice standard.

Pelargonium mellisimum (Lemon Balm Pelargonium): Also listed as P. mellisinum. Vigorous upright plants bear pale, deeply cut, sweetly lemon scented green leaves and pinkish blossoms.

Pelargonium ‘Nervosum’: 18-36″ tall x 2′ wide. Glossy serrated lime green leaves with a sweet lime fragrance; pink to lavender flowers in summer. Easy care. Sandy Mush lists this as P. nervosum ‘Lime’.

Pelargonium ‘Queen of the Lemons’: Deeply cut foliage, red stems, lemon fragrance; supposed to repel gnats and mosquitoes (but it doesn’t).

Pelargonium ‘Orange Fizz’: 18-24″ tall x 2′ wide. Dark green, lobed, coarse-textured leaves with strong, distinct orange and citrus scent on a stiffly upright plant. The flowers are light pinkish-mauve with darker blotches on their upper petals. Recommended in cooking.

Pelargonium ‘Peach’: Syn. P. ‘Gooseberry Leaf’. 10-12″ tall x 5-6″ wide. Upright, stiff-stemmed cultviara with ruffled, rounded mid-green leaves variegated cream to white. The flowers are pale lilac, borne in clusters. Despite the name, the plant is scented of citrus, not peaches.

Pelargonium ‘Poquita’: 2′ tall x 2′ wide. Stiffly upright plants bear glossy, toothed, dark green leaves strongly and sweetly scented of grapefruit; the flowers are of good size, mauve to lilac. Easy care.

Pelargonium ‘Prince of Orange’ (Version 1): 2′ tall x 2′ wide. Vigorous, sturdy, bushy upright plant bears serrated, crinkled, glossy, dark green leaves strongly fragrant of orange. The flowers are mauve-pink and held over a long period in summer. Listed as Pelargonium ‘Prince of Orange, American’ by Hillfoot Plants Nursery, U.K., who claims the cultivar possesses a much stronger orange scent than the old European standard ‘Prince of Orange’ (which see below).

Pelargonium ‘Prince of Orange’ (Version 2): 10-12″ tall x 6-8″ wide. Upright orange-scented cultivar with thin stems and small, rounded leaves. Clusters of mauve flowers in summer. Listed in the AHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants.

Pelargonium radens ‘Dr. Livingston’: Syn. P. ‘Skeleton Leaf Rose’. 18-26″ tall x 8-12″ wide. Tall, bushy plants bear deeply cut and lobed green leaves, powerfully lemon-rose scented, with pretty pinkish and wine-colored blossoms. Also listed as P. radens ‘Dr. Livingstone’ and P. ‘Dr. Livingston’.

Pelargonium ‘Roger’s Delight’: Hybrid of a common garden geranium cultivar (P. x domesticum) and a lemon scented cultivar. Green leaves possess large lobes, a strong lemon aroma, and lilac-pink blossoms centered in maroon. Choice!

Pelargonium scabrum (Rough-Leaved Pelargonium, Three-Pointed Pelargonium, Hoenderbos): To 3′ tall. Roughly hairy, upright, drought tolerant subshrub bearing 1.6″ x 1.6″ lemon-scented, trilobed, pointy-toothed leaves. From August to January appear 6-flowered blossom clusters in white through pink to purplish-pink, the two upper petals of which are spoon-shaped and veined in deeper purple. Native to dry, rocky, sunny, sandstone slopes of Namaqualand and the Cape Districts of South Africa.

  • P. scabrum ‘M. Ninon’: See “Fruit-Scented Geranium Varieties” below.

Pelargonium ‘Torrento’: 2′ tall x 18″ wide. Stiffly upright plants bear smooth, toothed green leaves lightly scented of ginger and citrus; the flowers are small and pale mauve.

MINT-SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

Mint-scented 'Mrs Kingsley'.

Pelargonium ‘Fern Mint’: 30″ tall x 30″ wide. Large, upright, bushy plants bear fine, feathery, ferny, velvety, fuzzy, grey green, applemint-scented leaves and clusters of pale pink flowers. Rarish in the trade.

Pelargonium Graveolens Group ‘Camphor Rose’: 1.5″ tall and wide. Deeply divided grey-green leaves on upright plants are — despite the name — strongly scented of camphor and mint. Purplish-rose blossoms in summer.

Pelargonium Graveolens Group ‘Mint Rose’: Peppermint-scented green leaves edged in pure white.

Pelargonium ‘Mrs. Kingsley’: Ruffled, grey-green, mint-scented leaves and bright showy cerise red flower clusters much of the year.

Pelargonium ‘Peppermint Lace’: 12-18″ tall x 8-10″ wide. Vigorous plants bear velvety, grey-green, deeply cut leaves very strongly scented of peppermint. Clusters of white flowers appear in summer.

Pelargonium ‘Rollison’s Unique’: 16-18″ tall x 6-8″ wide. Very curly mint-scented leaves and striking 3″ clusters of magenta blossoms, blotched and feathered deep purple and white on their upper petals.

Pelargonium tomentosum (Peppermint Geranium; Pennyroyal Pelargonium; Peppermint-Scented Pelargonium): 30-36″ tall x 24-30″ wide. Peppermint-scented plants of spreading habit. The palm-shaped, velvety, silvery-hairy leaves are 1.6-2.4″ wide x 2.8″ long, heart-shaped at base, with 3 to 5 rounded lobes, all held on scrambling stems; the small white butterfly shaped blossoms are held in clusters of 4-15 from October to January, their upper petals marked in purple, their lower petals longer and narrower than the upper. Native to semishady, moist, sandy soils of the southern Cape District of South Africa. Cultivars/hybrids include:

  • P. tomentosum ‘Chocolate Mint’: To 1′ tall x 3′ wide. Large, low-growing, semitrailing sprawler with deeply lobed, soft, velvety, medium to large green leaves blotched chocolate brown; the flowers are pale pink, feathered in purple on their upper petals. The plants is nicely peppermint scented; the “chocolate” refers to the leaf-markings, not the scent.
  • P. tomentosum ‘Variegatum’: Compact plants with emerald-green, cream-edged, peppermint-scented leaves.

FRUIT SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

Apple-Scented Varieties

Apple geranium in flower.

Pelargonium ‘Big Apple’: 12″ tall x 3′ wide. Vigorous, semibranching plants with dense central growth bear variably sized, light to mid green, roundish, velvety leaves refreshingly scented of ‘Granny Smith’ apples. Long racemes of small white flowers marked red on their upper petals appear over a long season. Hybridized by Faye Brawner, probably using P. odoratissimum as one of the parents. U.K.’s Hillfoot Plants Nursery says that the apple scent of this cultivar is the “most distinct” of any apple-scented variety they have smelled. They recommend using the leaves to scent sugar, use in baking, and make into tea.

Pelargonium ‘Fringed Apple’: 18-24″ tall x 2′ wide. Densely semibranching plants bear fringed, misty green leaves deliciously scented of apple with a touch of mint; the dainty flowers are white and borne heavily over a long period. Recommended for cooking and craft use.

Pelargonium odoratissimum (Apple Geranium): Low-growing South African perennial with rounded light green leaves, heart-shaped at base and shallowly scalloped, scented intensely of dessert apples, often with a strong overtone of eucalyptus. The flowers are held spring to summer in clusters of 3 to 10 on trailing, branching stems; the blooms are white with two oblong upper petals veined in red. Great for hanging baskets and windowboxes. The species name means “most fragrant.” Native to the KwaZulu/Natal, Northern Transvaal, and Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa.

  • P. odoratissimum ‘Logeei’: Compact, spreading plants with white-frosted, spice-scented green leaves and creamy flowers held in long spikes. Recommended for hanging baskets.

Apricot-Scented Varieties

Pelargonium ‘BirdBush Miriam’: 18″ tall x 18″ wide. Lacy, curled, coarse-textured, dark green leaves on upright, stiff-stemmed, bushy plants bear a distinct and delicious aroma of apricots. The showy, eye-catching flowers, which are borne over a long period in summer, boast upper petals of velvety indigo shading to clear red; the lower petals are pure white. Bred by U.K.’s B. White.

Pelargonium scabrum ‘M. Ninon’: Dark, glossy, apricot-scented leaves on upright plants. Deep rose-pink flowers in spring and early summer.

Peach-Scented Varieties

Pelargonium crispum ‘Peach Cream’: Pink-flowered sport of the lemon-scented pelargonium, bearing peach-scented leaves.

SPICE SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

One of the Fragrans Group.

Pelargonium ‘Concolor Lace’: 2′ tall x up to 2′ wide. Syn. P. ‘Filbert’; P. ‘Schottesham Pet’. Attractive, compact, pyramidal habit and lacy, light green leaves; their sweet, spicy scent has sometimes been likened to that of filberts. The flowers, which are borne over a long period, are deep violet-lavender to reddish, with pronouncing upper-petal feathering.

Pelargonium crithmifolium (Samphire-Leaved Geranium): To 3.6′ tall. Native to the Karoo Desert of South Africa, this rare, extremely slow-growing, long-lived species has very thick, swollen, knobby stems. Its leaves are small, few, and much-divided, clustered at the tips of its branches; as a moisture-conservation measure, they are shed in the heat of summer. In consequence, the plants have developed greenish bark through which they can photosynthesize in summer without danger of water loss. When crushed the leaves smell like a combination of ginger and nutmeg. The pale pink flowers are carried in clusters of 4-8 from May to October. Plants can live up to 50 years.

Pelargonium Fragrans Group: Upright, multibranched South African subshrubs from 12 to 16 inches tall, with velvety, grey-green, 3-lobed, blunt-toothed, spice-scented leaves shaped like rounded hearts. The white flowers are carried spring to summer in clusters of 4 to 8 flowers each; their stalks are often reddish, their two upper petals upright and marked with fine red lines. Frequently listed as Pelargonium fragrans.

  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Aroma’: Crinkled, highly fragrant leaves and white flowers. Derived from ‘Old Spice’ (see below).
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Cody’s Fragrans’: Also listed as P. x fragrans ‘Cody’ and P. ‘Apple Cider’. Compact, to 8″ tall, with grey-green, somewhat crinkle-edged leaves and white flowers.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Fragrans Variegatum’: Creamy yellow-edged leaves green up as they mature. Sometimes listed simply as ‘Variegatum’.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Fruity’: 10-15″ tall by 12-15″ wide. Compact, midgreen plants bear frilled, glossy leaves with a sweet, ginger-spice scent; recommended for hanging baskets. Sandy Mush claims it is a form of ‘Nutmeg’ and lists it simply as P. ‘Fruity’.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Lillian Pottinger’: See “Pungent Scented Geranium Varieties” below.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Nutmeg’: Small grey leaves and numerous white blossoms, recommended for hanging baskets. Sandy Mush lists it simply as P. ‘Nutmeg’.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Old Spice’: 10-12″ tall x 18″ wide. Compact, with dense clusters of round grey-green, crinkle-edged leaves, very sweetly spice-scented. The blossoms are small and white, borne abundantly on branching stems over a long period. Recommended for hanging baskets.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Snowy Nutmeg’: Nutmeg-scented, low-to-the-ground plants bearing small leaves centered largely in grey and margined broadly in cream. White blooms. Sandy Mush lists it as P. ‘Nutmeg, Snowy’.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Variegata’: Like P. Fragrans Group ‘Nutmeg’ above, with the addition of yellow borders on the leaves.
  • P. Fragrans Group ‘Variegated Nutmeg’: 8-10″ tall x 6-8″ wide. Compact, bushy plants bear furry, rounded grey-green leaves variegated cream and white and small white flowers in clusters. The plant is scented of pine and spice. Listed by the AHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants as P. ‘Variegated Nutmeg’; sounds a lot like P. Fragrans Group ‘Snowy Nutmeg’ above.

Pelargonium ‘Joanne’s Spring Clover’: 1′ tall x 1.5′ wide. Green, highly crinkled, spice-scented leaves; white flowers. Probably belongs in Fragrans Group.

Pelargonium ‘Scilly Mauve’: 2′ tall x 12-18″ wide. Tall, stiffly upright plants bear dark green, serrated, ribbed, cup-shaped, rough-textured leaves strongly and sweetly spice-scented. The blossoms are large in deep cerise to mid-pink, held over a long period.

INCENSE SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

Pelargonium ‘Copthorne’: 18-24″ tall x 8-24″ wide. Large-leaved, vigorous, deep green, big-lobed plants bear over a long period big, showy, light purplish-pink blossoms veined and blotched in wine on their upper petals. The scent is very sweet and has been likened to that of cedar.

Pelargonium ‘Filicifolium’ (Toothed-Leaved Pelargonium, Pine-Scented Geranium, Fernleaf Geranium): Syn. P. denticulatum. 12-18″ tall x 6-10″ wide. Well branched strongly aromatic plant with hard, rigid, densely hairy, oil-gland-dotted, sticky, finely divided leaves. Leaf margins are irregular, with very fine, sharply pointed teeth. From April to November, peaking in September (and occasionally the following January), the pinkish flowers are carried in groups of three to seven; the upper two petals are marked dark red to purple. Introduced to Britain in 1789 by Francis Mason, a Scottish botanist and plant collector in the employ of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Pelargonium glutinosum (Pheasant Foot Pelargonium): Formerly P. erectum. To 5′ tall x 3′ wide. Upright, well-branched, glossy, hairy, sticky shrub, soft-stemmed when young, woody when mature, with green to dark green, rough-textured, deeply to shallowly incised leaves vaguely resembling maple leaves; the leaves are covered with hairs dotted with essential oil glands, which release a balm-like fragrance when touched. The flowers open from distinctive pear-shaped buds; they are pale to dark pink with darker purplish markings on the upper two petals, and appear sporadically throughout the year, particularly in spring and from September to November. A common wild shrub in the better-watered areas of the Cape district of South Africa.

Pelargonium panduriforme (Balsam-Scented Geranium; Fiddle Leaf Geranium): Upright, balsam-scented subshrub to 4.5′ tall, sometimes sticky, with long hairs all over. The leaves are fiddle-shaped, grey-green, with round-lobed feathery segments. From August to January the pale purple-pink blossoms are carried in clusters of 2 to 20 flowers each; their two upper petals are spoon-shaped, upright, and marked in deep purple. Native to southern South Africa.

Oh, Ellen thou art so fair!

Pelargonium quercifolium (Oak-Leaved Geranium; Almond Geranium; Village Oak Geranium): Upright, sticky, balsam-scented subshrub to 4.5′ tall, with rough, triangular, deeply feathery or palm-frondlike leaves, covered with long oil-gland-dotted hairs; the leaf-segments are themselves divided and toothed. The purplish-pink blossoms are held spring to summer in small clusters of 2 to 6, their two upper petals shallowly notched and sometimes upright, sometimes bent back, marked in darker pink.

Plantzafrica notes that all parts of the plant are astringent, and that locals take the plant internally — used fresh, in infusions — to treat rheumatism, hypertension and heart disease. Essential oils obtained from the plant have a laudanum fragrance; the dried leaves are added to potpourri and used as insect-repellent sachets. Native to southern South Africa. Some of the cultivars derived from this species include:

  • P. quercifolium ‘Fair Ellen’: Low-growing cultivar with leaves varying from the species in several ways: they are smaller, with a dark mark along their midribs, and their lobes are more rounded and more deeply cut. The spotted, toothed flowers are purple-pink with indented upper petals. Pretty and fragrant. Recommended for hanging baskets and for droogling over walls.
  • P. quercifolium ‘Giant Oak’: Very large, lobed leaves.
  • P. quercifolium ‘Purple Unique’: Handsome, compact cultivar with green leaves centered purple and purple-pink, maroon-center flowers.
  • P. quercifolium ‘Royal Oak’: 2′ tall x 2′ wide. Upright, bushy, shrubby plants bear round-lobed, dark green, oakleaf-shaped leaves blotched along their veins in dark purple-brown; the purplish-pink or deep mauve blossoms have darker spots on their upper petals. The plants have a strong, woodsy, spicy scent.
  • P. quercifolium ‘Sharp Tooth Oak’: Tall shapely plants boast large leaves with sharp teeth and pink blossoms highlighted in maroon.
  • P. quercifolium ‘Sweet Miriam’: Syn. P. ‘Sweet Mimosa’. 18-20″ tall x 8-10″ wide. Vigorous, upright, bushy, sometimes semitrailing variety with broad, shallowly to deeply cut, mid-green, serrated, downy foliage; the leaves are powerfully scented of balsam. The clusters of small to medium, rose pink blossoms, with are blotched and feathered in dark pink on their upper petals, are borne over a long period in summer. Introduced to the U.S.A. by John Cook in 1984. Listed by AHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants as P. ‘Sweet Miriam’.
  • P. quercifolium ‘Variegated Oak Leaf’: Quick-growing plants bear dark green leaves marked in creamy white and pale green; young stems are colored in cream. Flowers are showy, pinkish-purple.
  • P. quercifolium ‘Village Hill Oak’: Very long blooming cultivar boasting dark pink, orange-stamened flowers highlighted in maroon.

Pelargonium vitifolium (Vine-Leaved Pelargonium; Balm-Scented Pelargonium): 1.5–3′ tall. Drought tolerant, powerfully balsam-scented pelargonium with a woody-based central stem and soft, hairy side branches. Its 3 to 5-lobed, slightly rough, irregularly toothed leaves are about 1/4″ long x 3″ wide. The lilac-pink, orange-anthered flowers, which are borne in clusters year round; they are particularly numerous from August to October.

PUNGENT SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

Pelargonium abrotanifolium (Southernwood-Leaved Geranium): To 20″ tall. Upright bushy plants, the stems growing woody with age and marked with the remains of leaf-stalks; the aromatic grey-green leaves are very finely divided, resembling those of southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum). The flowers are held spring to summer in little clusters of 1 to 5 each; white or pink, their petals are narrowly rounded, the upper two marked in maroon. Native to dry, rocky outcrops over a wide range in South Africa.

Pelargonium betulinum (Birch-Leaved Geranium): Also called Kanferblaar (i.e., camphor-scented geranium); Maagpynbossie (little plant for stomach pain); Suurbos (sour bush). 1-4′ tall in wild; 20-30″ tall x 20-30″ wide in cultivation. Small, upright, woody-branched, sometimes sprawling short-lived perennial shrublet with small, hard, rounded, smooth to hairy, aromatic leaves edged in reddish serrations. The leaves are sour to the taste. The very showy, bright pink to purplish (occasionally white) blossoms appear in small umbels of 3-6; the petals bear contrasting markings, particularly the upper two petals. The blooms appear spring and summer, with peak bloom from August to October, and when plants are massed the color impact is considerable. The species is found mostly in the Western Cape region of South Africa, often occurring in tandem with P. cucullatum, with which it often hybridizes naturally. The leaves are used locally in ointments to heal wounds, and boiled and the vapors inhaled for chest and lung problems.

Pelargonium ‘Brunswick’: 2′ tall x 1.5′ wide. Upright plants bear large, dark green, deeply cut, highly pungent leaves and showy clusters of large rose-pink flowers in summer.

Pelargonium ‘Clorinda’: 18-36″ tall x 10-36″ wide. Large, vigorous, quick-growing plants bear veiny, coarse-textured, three-lobed, dark green leaves and large deep pink blossoms over a long period in summer. The scent is pungent, redolent of eucalyptus or cedar. Hillfoot Plants Nursery, U.K., recommends up-potting ‘Clorinda’ when she becomes rootbound. May be grown as a standard.

P. Fragrans Group ‘Lillian Pottinger’: 8-10″ tall x 5-6″ wide. Sweetly spice-scented, divided, grey-green leaves, irregularly 3-lobed and toothed, are scented of camphor and pine; masses of white blossoms appear in summer. Recommended for hanging baskets and for scenting linens. Sandy Mush lists it simply as P. ‘Lillian Pottinger’; AHS Encyclopedia of Garden Plants as P. ‘Lilian Pottinger’.

Pelargonium Graveolens Group ‘Lady Plymouth’: 12-16″ tall x 6-8″ wide. Attractive white-margined green leaves are eucalyptus-scented; clusters of lavender-pink flowers appear in summer.

Pelargonium Graveolens Group ‘Little Pet’: Rose pink flowers on a compact plant. Very pungent scent, reportedly not at all roselike.

Pelargonium hirtum: Low-growing South African subshrub with short, thick stems; the unusual leaves are hairy, finely divided, and aromatic, to 2″ long, resembling carrot leaves. The bright pink blossoms have rounded petals and are carried from late winter to spring in flattish clusters of 2 to 6 blossoms each.

Pelargonium ‘Orsett’: 30″ tall x 3′ wide. Large, upright, bushy plants bear large, lobed green leaves marked at their centers in purplish-brown; they are pungently but pleasantly aromatic. The large, showy flowers are pinkish purple with darker markings on their upper petals; they are borne over a very long period. For big containers.

Pelargonium ‘Paton’s Unique’: Syn. P. ‘Apricot Scented’. 16-18″ tall x 6-8″ wide. Vigorous plants with pungent-scented leaves and showy clusters of coral red and pale pink flowers with small white eyes.

Pelargonium ‘Roundleaf Pine’: Mounds of small, 1-1.5″ round, strongly pine-scented leaves; white flowers on drooping stems. Nice for hanging baskets.

MISCELLANEOUS SCENTED GERANIUM VARIETIES

Pelargonium ‘Deerwood Lavender Lad’: 1′ tall by 2′ wide. Compact plants bear lacy, velvety leaves of a darkish silver-green, strongly scented of lavender; lots of small magenta blossoms are borne in profusion over a long period at the ends of semitrailing stems. Great for hanging baskets.

Pelargonium ‘Deerwood Lavender Lass’: 1′ tall by 2′ wide. Compact, densely leafed plants bear scalloped, crisped, dark olive-green leaves lightly scented of lavender; sprays of purple blossoms are borne over a long period at the ends of semitrailing stems. Great for hanging baskets. Easy-care.

Pelargonium dichondraefolium (Dichondra-Leaved Pelargonium): 8-12″ tall x 12-18″ wide. Rarish species bears rosettes of long-stemmed, smooth, green, kidney-shaped leaves scented startlingly of black pepper. The blossoms are white to pale pink with red feathering. Nice on windowsills; needs more moisture than most scented geraniums.

SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE

  • Griffiths, Mark. Index of Garden Plants. (Portland: Timber Press, Inc., 1994; ISBN 0-88192-246-3.)
  • Hillfoot Plants Nursery website (scentedgeraniums.co.uk)
  • Plantzafrica (plantzafrica.com)
  • Sandy Mush Herb Nursery Handbook, Edition 9, 2004
  • Wikipedia France <http://www.fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelargonium_graveolens>