These beautiful North American natives (Geranium maculatum) light up the late spring woods with pale pink and purple flowers and the various cultivars bloom all sorts of colors well into autumn. They have deeply lobed (5 lobes, serrated) palmate leaves that grow in mounds or clumps.
Domesticated cultivars may sprawl. The mounds may be up to two feet tall. Wild types produce pale pink to lavender saucer-shaped hermaphrodite flowers with five petals from April to June. After about six to eight weeks, “beaked” seedpods are formed which are said to resemble crane’s bills. These seedpods explode in the height of summer, sending seeds everywhere. The exploded pod looks sort of like a little flower itself. The root produces rhizomes. The stems are slightly hairy.
Geraniums attract butterflies and moths and are an important food source for the larval stage of several species including Lacinipolia lorea, Heliothis virescens, and Hemerocampa leucostigma. The foliage is also browsed on by deer and small woodland rodents enjoy the seeds. These don’t seem to cause lasting harm for the most part.
They can grow wild all over the Northeastern United States and many cultivars are sold in nurseries. Geraniums make wonderful ground covers for part shade to full sun and look lovely in containers as well.
If you have geraniums growing in your flower beds and window boxes you may be thinking “This doesn’t sound anything like my geraniums” and you may be right. The flowers sold most often in nurseries under “geranium” are actually Pelargoniums, native to Africa. The confusion goes back to Linnaeus.
Other Names Crane’s bill, Spotted Geranium, Spotted Cranesbill, Wood Geranium, Spotted Cranesbill, Wild Cranesbill, Crowfoot, Dove’s-foot, Old Maid’s Nightcap, Shameface, hardy geranium, wild geranium
Note: When most people say geranium, they mean pelargonium
History and Folklore
The word Geranium comes from the Greek geranos meaning “crane”
The Wild Geranium rhizome is rich in tannin and was used by early American settlers to tan hides.
These geraniums transplant well and also grow well from seed. They will grow well in sun if kept moist but prefer shady areas. If you do plant yours in the sun, be aware that they will go dormant during very hot, dry periods, but will often come back when conditions improve. The soil should be rich and humusy, like the woodland floor. If you choose the right spot, your geraniums will grow and spread with little attention from you.
Space the plants about 20 inches apart for use as a ground cover. They will spread.
Flowers bloom for a very long period, but this plant does not re-bloom. Therefore, deadheading is not necessary to encourage more blooming, but you may want to do it if you want to discourage spread.
Harvesting & Storage
Leaves and roots should both be harvested just before the plant flowers and then dried for later use. Alternatively, the rhizome/root can be harvested in the autumn.
Hang to dry or lay on a screen until firm yet flexible. Seal in a glass jar and store in a cool dry place.
Place small canvas bags over the seed heads (like the little drawstring herb bags) to catch the seeds when they ripen.
A tea of Wild Geranium flowers effectively counters many love spells. A bit of the root can be carried as an amulet to attract happiness and prosperity. It can also be used in spells to encourage conception, successful pregnancy and safe childbirth, especially in sympathetic spells.
Infusions may be made of any part of the plant for treating diarrhea, dysentery, irritable bowel, cholera, kidney problems, internal bleeding and many other issues that call for the use of an astringent. It is also antiseptic and may be applied externally for issues involving pus, discharge and inflammations.
It can be used as a douche or gargle to this affect if called for. The powdered, dried root can be used as a styptic.
Although the entire plant is effective, the rhizome contains the highest concentration of tannin and healing properties.