Scented Geranium ‘Fern Leaf’ is a low growing, evergreen perennial reaching a height of 45 cm by 50 cm wide. The plant is well branched and has quite hard or firm leaf texture, despite the lace-like impression. The leaves are finely divided and toothed at the margins, and dotted with a dense covering of hairs and oil glands. As the sticky leaves are touched or even crushed the scent is released. The flowers are pink, have 5 petals and are held in groups of 3-7. The upper row petals are larger and have purple to dark red markings on them. The flowering period should be from April to November, peaking in September, for the southern hemisphere. There may be a repeat flowering in January. After flowering, the peduncle or the stalk on the floral inflorescence bends downwards. The seeds are adapted for wind dispersal and have a small hook designed to help them attach to animal fur and eventually the ground’s surface.
This species was introduced to England in 1789 and most common cultivar of this species is Pelargonium denticulatum ‘Filicifolia’ (may be seen as cvsyn P. filicifolia). In the wild, P. denticulatum is considered rare in its native South Africa, but it is not yet threatened. The plant is restricted to growing in a small region of the South Western Cape which receives the most rainfall during the winter months. Sometimes the rainfall is a constant drizzle that lasts for days, creating a damp micro climate which has much more moisture than other areas. Typically the plant will grow in mountainous locations near streams and ravines.
The ‘Fern Leaf’ Scented Geranium has the genus name ‘pelargonium’ which comes from the Greek word ‘pelargos’, meaning stork. This is a reference to the shape of the fruit which looks like a stork’s beak. Pelargoniums are called ‘storkbills’ in some areas of the United States. The species name ‘denticulatum’ refers to the finely toothed leaf edges. Other names for this plant include Fernleaf Geranium, Toothed Leaf Geranium (or Pelargonium) and Pine Scented Geranium.
Although the plant has a pine or woody scent, it is often grown more for the ornamental value found in the delicate appearance of the leaf structure. The essential oil found in Pelargonium denticulatum is also known to have good anti- bacterial properties.
For general information on Pelargoniums, also known as Scented Geraniums, please see below.
Pelargonium General Notes
Pelargoniums are evergreen perennials, sharing many common characteristics with the Geranium species. They range in height from 30- 100cm and may be categorized based on varying leaf shapes, such as crinkled, oak or fern leaf shapes. The leaf colour may vary from deep to light green, with flowers generally held in loose clusters. Most prefer to grow in full sun and they are also drought and heat tolerant. However, some varieties do require some shade and moist conditions where possible. Many grow near streams in their native habitats, but generally ‘less is more’ is a good guideline for watering these plants. They do not like to be damp at all.
This group of plants were initially catalogued by Linnaeus into the same Genus as Geraniums, but were separated into separate genera in 1789. Pelargoniums were taken to England in 1631, but it is likely they were transported to Holland in the earlier 1600’s. Since early times various varieties have been developed and many are now cultivated commercially for the essential oils used in perfumery and aromatherapy.
The Pelargonium genus is one of five in the family Geraniaceae, which has over 800 species. This includes the separate Geranium genus, which often causes confusion since ‘geranium’ is also used as a common name for the many Pelargonium species and cultivars. There is thought to be 270 species of Pelargonium, with 219 being native to South Africa. Among these, there is a number of genera or subtypes of pelargonium based on features such as leaf type. Of this selection about 80% are native only to select areas in the southern regions of South Africa. The remaining 20% are found in Australia, New Zealand and a few select areas such as Madagascar and Eastern Africa. There are now cultivated varieties all over the world, most with origins in South Africa. The true Geranium species is a hardy group of plants native to North America and Europe.
The Geranium plant family is an important food source for certain Lepidoptera species in their native regions. For more information on our other Scented Geranium listings.
‘Fern Leaf’ Scented Geranium is a variety that requires full sun for good growth. It can grow in semi-shaded positions and is best established during winter when rain is available. It requires a moist, but not damp environment, with well- drained soil. Most soil types are acceptable. Water should be provided during long dry periods, but this species is generally quite tolerant of drought.
This plant also grows well in containers and hanging baskets. In cold regions it may even be taken indoors, but may be better treated as an annual if this is not possible. Although, not very tolerant of frost some plants may die down and return when the weather warms in spring. It may be propagated by tip or stem cuttings taken in autumn or spring. Seed may be sown at almost any time of the year, especially in warmer climates.
Pelargoniums are usually suitable for culinary use, particularly the leaves and flowers. They may be used for herbal teas and to sweeten and scent desserts such as cakes and jelly. The most commonly used are those with rose, lemon and peppermint scents. Leaves may be cut and placed in ice cube trays for later use in iced tea or other suitable cold drinks.
A tea infusion may be made using 3 teaspoons of freshly chopped leaves, or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves, and 1 cup (250mls) of boiling water. Let the leaves steep, strain and then drink as needed. There are several varieties suitable for a tea infusion, but it may be a matter of taste.
Many South African varieties of Pelargonium have a history of traditional medicine use by local tribes. General traditional use has included treatment for digestive and respiratory ailments, wounds, burns, ulcers and abscesses, cold sores and sore throats. The active chemicals are slightly astringent so they are good for skin care, oily skin and cleansing the pores. Overall the pelargonium species are seen as having value for creating a relaxing and uplifting feeling, while calming nerves, anxiety and aiding depression. There is also value for use in premenstrual tension and for those seeking an essential oil for creating a soothing and balancing effect on the body. Different varieties may have different effects.
As a medicinal plant, the strongly scented Rose Scented Geranium, Pelargonium graveolens, is one of the best plants in this genus for traditional medicine use. Several active chemicals, in this species, have been determined to be beneficial for having antibiotic effects and nerve pain relief. Research has indicated it is helpful for nerve pain associated with shingles. It is thought to also have a soothing effect on the skin when used to bath rashes, skin irritations or simply used in bath water. ‘Fern Leaf’ Scented Geranium is also known to have strong anti-bacterial properties.
Many of the scented pelargonium species and varieties are cultivated especially for their use in perfumery, aromatherapy and massage therapy. Rose Scented Geranium is often used as a substitute for the more expensive Rose of Attar. The oil is extracted from the leaf and stems of the plant.
All information provided on this website is for informational purposes only. Please seek professional advice before commencing any treatment.
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