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Pelargonium cordifolium (heart-leaved pelargonium)

As the name suggests, the heart-leaved pelargonium has velvety, heart-shaped leaves scented of apple.

Flowers of Pelargonium cordifolium

Pelargonium cordifolium, photographed in South Africa (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Pelargonium cordifolium Curtis

Common name: 

heart-leaved pelargonium, heart-leaved geranium

Conservation status: 

Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Moist, sandy spots in fynbos, forests and forest margins.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

Pelargoniums can cause mild skin dermatitis.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Rosanae
Order: 
Geraniales
Family: 
Geraniaceae
Genus: Pelargonium

About this species

William Curtis described Pelargonium cordifolium in 1792, as ‘another Geranium of modern introduction, not enumerated by Linnaeus or Miller, and which in point of beauty, duration of flowering, and facility of culture, is equal to most’. It was introduced to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, from the Cape, by Francis Masson in 1774.

Curtis was right to draw attention to the length of the flowering season, for even in a British conservatory this plant is often in flower for many months, from around March to July.

Synonym: 

Pelargonium cordatum

Genus: 
Pelargonium

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Found near the coast in the Southern and Eastern Cape areas of South Africa.

Description

An upright, or sometimes spreading, shrub, up to 1.5 m high and wide. The main stem is woody at the base with many branches. The leaves are heart-shaped, dark green, soft, hairy, approximately 5 cm in diameter and toothed at the margins. 

Illustration of Pelargonium cordifolium by Sydenham Edwards in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (1792).

The flowers are pink or purple with darker veining on the petals; they are produced in branched clusters from around June to January in its native habitat (March to July in Britain).

Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. 

Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Uses

Pelargonium cordifolium makes an attractive ornamental plant.

Cultivation

Heart-leaved pelargonium is cultivated as an outdoor ornamental in South Africa. In Great Britain it needs the protection of a greenhouse and is easily grown in sandy soil. The tips should be pinched out to maintain a bushy plant. Propagation is mainly by cuttings.

This species at Kew

Pelargonium cordifolium can be seen growing in the dry climate section of the Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Pelargoniums from South Africa to Kew

Francis Masson was the first plant collector officially employed by Kew, and was sent to Cape Town by Joseph Banks in 1772. With Carl Thunberg, another botanist, he undertook three plant-collecting expeditions in the Eastern Cape, which produced numerous exciting plants subsequently introduced to cultivation in Britain, including P. cordifolium and many other species of pelargoniums.

Although the Spanish botanist Antonio Cavanilles originally described this plant as Geranium cordifolium in 1787, it was William Curtis who first published a description of it in 1792, in his Botanical Magazine (later Curtis’s Botanical Magazine), under the name Pelargonium.

References and credits

Cooper, M.R. & Johnson, A.W. (1998). Poisonous Plants and Fungi in Britain: Animal and Human Poisoning. Second edition. The Stationery Office, London.

Miller, D. (1996). Pelargoniums. Batsford, London.

Phillips, R. & Rix, M. (1997). Conservatory and Indoor Plants, Vol. 1. Macmillan, London.

The Plant List (2010). Pelargonium cordifolium. Available online (accessed 11 June 2011).

Van der Walt, J. J. A., illus. E. Ward-Hilhorst (1979). Pelargoniums of Southern Africa. Vol.1. Fischer, Hillscheid & Cape Town.

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Steve Davis (Sustainable Uses Group)
Copyediting: Malin Rivers

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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