Species of Pelargonium do not occur in Europe. The first few examples to reach there from the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Province, R.S.A.) did so during the 17th century and were recognized as being similar to species of Geranium, native to Europe. It was not until a century later that enough examples were known that it became apparent that these African plants were distinct and the new name Pelargonium was proposed in reference to the similarity of the developing fruit to the head and bill of a stork (pelargos in Greek) and to that of Geranium, named for a crane (geranos). This proposal took many further years to become accepted and is the cause of “geranium” being the popular name of the garden hybrids that are botanically pelargoniums. Critical differences between the genera are the following. True geraniums have ten stamens and five identical petals giving the flower rotational symmetry, usually in the form of a bowl. In pelargoniums, petals are of two types, two upper ones distinct in size and/or colour or markings from three lower ones, creating mirror symmetry about a vertical line (not all species have this full complement of petals). Fertile stamens are usually seven and the flowers have a spur containing a nectary providing reward for pollinators, absent in Geranium.
In southern Africa, about 200 species of Pelargonium are now recognized with a few more in other extra-tropical parts of Africa. Even fewer are scattered as far as Australasia and the remote islands of St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha. Two species occur in western Asia, far to the north of the centre of diversity. One of these is Pelargonium endlicherianum illustrated here. It is native to mountains of Asiatic Turkey, where the climate is hot and dry in summer and cold and snowy in winter, largely similar to the interior of B.C. The plants illustrated have come through the recent difficult winter on the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden and are flowering well, whereas many other plants in the African, Australasian and South American sections suffered severe damage. Cultivation here requires exceptional drainage or overhead protection from winter wet.
As can be seen, this is a species where the two upper petals are large and showy and the lower ones are absent. The stamens protrude a considerable distance and anthers are functional before the equally long stigma unfurls its five lobes and becomes receptive, probably indicating pollination by a long-tongued, hovering insect (hawk moth?). The flowers in the wild are gathered for sale at local markets as medicine for expelling intestinal worms. Pharmacologists report they are effective.
Further east in the region of the Turkish-Iraqi border, a distinct but similar species, Pelargonium quercetorum, is found, should any collector venture there. This is in cultivation, though not apparently here in British Columbia.