Wild Geranium

wild-geranium

Flower Description:
Two to ten lavender flowers divided into five wide (1-2”) petals. Each petal is heavily veined.

Fruit:
Beak-like pod which splits lengthwise revealing many seeds.

Leaf Description:
Four to five inch long dark green leaves (2-3) on long stalks connected to the stem. Leaves are coarsely toothed.

Common Names:

Alumroot, Chocolate Flower, Cranesbill, Crow Foot, Old Maid’s Night Cap, Rockweed, Sailor’s Knot, Shameface, Storksbill

Established Plant Colonies in Norway Valley

wild-geranium-map

Family: Geranium (Geraniaceae)
Height: To 2’ (60 cm)
Flowering: April – June
Habitat: Deciduous Woods, Meadows, Dry, Shady Areas
Cycle: Perennial

Etymology

Geranium is derived from the Greek word geranos, meaning crane. Though this name seems curious, it actually refers to the shape of the seed pod, not the flower. The papery seed capsules, which split lengthwise into five long peels, resemble a crane or stork. Cranesbill and Storksbill are two common names for Wild Geranium describing this likeness.

Maculatum, the species name, means mottled and refers to the dark greenish- brown leaves which are somewhat mottled.

Though we call this flower Wild Geranium, “wild” is actually a misnomer. Wild Geranium is actually a true geranium. The term wild is used to distinguish this flower from other false species.

Common Names

Alumroot: Alum was a common styptic chemical which describes the medicinal properties of the wildflower.
Chocolate Flower: Describes the color of the dried root powder.
Old Maid’s Nightcap, Sailor’s Knot: These names refer to the anatomy of the plant (flower and seed pod).
Rockweed: Wild Geranium can be found near stone walls and rocky areas.
Shameface: Refers to the shape and color of the flower, which resembles an embarrassed face.

Pollination

One of the most surprising and beautiful aspects of Wild Geranium is the color of its pollen. Unlike most wildflowers with traditionally yellow, orange, or white pollen, when viewed under a microscope Wild Geranium’s pollen is bright blue. This attracts a variety of insects, including the digger wasp, which come to pollinate the flower.

Upon pollination, the plant has adapted interesting and unique techniques for spreading its seeds. After the seed capsule has formed it dries and begins to split. As it breaks open, the seeds are propelled into the air and can land as far as thirty-feet away from the seed pod. The seed’s journey however does not stop there. Each seed has an awn or “tail” which is malleable: curling when dried and straightening when wet. The awn allows the seed to slowly creep a short distance before becoming stuck in a hole or crack. The seed may use this movement to search for a suitable place to germinate or to escape, albeit rather slowly, from predators.

Medical Uses

Wild Geranium is valued as a useful astringent and hemostatic. The roots contain large amounts of tannin, which is a bitter-tasting polyphenol produced by the plant. Polyphenols bind and precipitate proteins explaining its properties as both an astringent and styptic. When applied topically, an astringent binds to the mucous membrane causing it to constrict or shrink. This process serves the dual purpose of both protecting the area to which it was applied and promoting healing. A hemostatic is any agent that stops bleeding through mild coagulation of skin proteins.

Early Native Americans recognized the value of Wild Geranium and used it as an ingredient in many medicinal treatments. Chippewa Indians used dried, powdered rhizomes mixed with grape juice as a mouthwash for children with thrush. A poultice from the base or pounded roots of the plant was used to treat burns and hemorrhoids. The leaves and roots were used to treat sore throats, hemorrhages, gonorrhea, and cholera. Like many other tannin-containing substances, Native Americans also used Wild Geranium as an anti-diarrhea treatment. A plant- infused tea was made to achieve this purpose, though some sources say the tea could have had the opposite effect, causing constipation.

Today, this wildflower is used for many of the same purposes. Wild Geranium extract is marketed as an anti-inflammatory and anti-hemorrhaging substance. It can be found in products sold in herbal stores and online.

Plant Lore

The Iroquois Indians believed that Wild Geranium could counteract a love charm. A root-infused tea was placed near the person believed to be afflicted by a love potion against their will.