Pelargonium Profile - A Rose By Any Other Name

by Wayne L. Handlos PhD

< Pelargonium capitatum flowers.  

Rose geraniums are probably what most people think of when they think of scented

geraniums. Rose scented geranium have been in cultivation since at least 1690!

Rose geraniums are the commercial source of geranium oil which is used in the perfume

industry. It is distilled from a variety of cultivars in different parts of the world.


Rose geranium plants are generally robust - reaching three to four feet easily. They can

be confined to pots but are quite exuberant when grown in modest garden soil. In my

garden on California's Central Coast, they have exhibited a degree of frost sensitivity

but generally they send out new growth when temperatures warm in the spring. They

are tolerant of summer heat and when grown in the garden they look good when given

a bit of supplemental watering.


P. capitatum                       'Attar of  Roses'            'Candy Dancer'                        P. radens              'Old Fashioned Rose'      


 'Rober's Lemon Rose'     'Lady Plymouth'                     'Charity'                    'Both's Snowflake'  


I have three types of rose-scented geraniums in my garden. These are related to three

species of South African natives: Pelargonium capitatum, P. graveolens and P. radens.

Pelargonium capitatum has roundish leaves with shallow, rounded lobes, while P. radens has

leaves which are deeply divided both palmately and pinnately and the edge of the leaf is

rolled under. Pelargonium graveolens is intermediate between these two extremes (and may

be a hybrid between them). 'Attar of Roses' is similar to P. capitatum; 'Dr. Livingston'

and 'Candy Dancer' are close to P. radens. 'Old Fashioned Rose', 'Rober's Lemon

Rose', and 'Reunion Rose' (this last the source of much geranium oil) would fit in the P.

graveolens category.


Rose geraniums usually produce pale lavender flowers in dense clusters. They are most

abundant in spring and summer. Most forms have some darker veins in the petals. In

addition, some have a dark purple blotch on each of the two upper petals. Needless to

say, the flowers are not the primary attraction of these plants.

All of these plants can be propagated from cuttings. Many of them produce root buds

and these can be potted up. Some types produce an abundant supply of seeds. Plants

grown from seeds may be somewhat variable in terms of fragrance and leaf shape.

Variegated leaves are seen in the cultivars 'Lady Plymouth', 'Charity', 'Both's Snowflake'

and some others.

2019, Central Coast Geranium Society (CCGS )