Monthly Archives: February 2012

A bashful move for Valentine’s

Serruria florida / Blushing bride / Image:

While exploring the origins of pelargonium and geranium, I came across a wealth of meaning in the names of Cape flora.  It was said that the absence of popular nomenclature was due to the stern and strenuous character of the life of the pioneers. I would like to contradict this statement with proof of creativity, imagination and poetic fancy during those early years.

With its delicate cream and pink bloom the Blushing bride receives the award for the protea with the most romantic appeal.  Apart from its history of being used in bridal bouquets, there is another charming explanation for its name. It was the costum in the old days for the young French Hoek (Franschhoek today) farmers to wear a blushing bride as a buttonhole when they went courting, and the deeper the pink the more serious their intentions…

My favourite name is Juffertjie-roer-by-die-nag (my translation = Missie-moves-at-night.) These plume-like flowers are fragrant at night possibly because the plant is pollinated by moths and not bees.  A very important lesson to learn from this flower is to make your move at the right time of day not to attract the wrong suitor!

Struthiola striata / Roemanaggie / Aandgonna / Featherhead /Juffertjie-roer-by-die-nag / Image:

There are two South African wild flowers with the name Skaamblom (my translation = Shy flower) and it is up to you to decide which is the more suitable name:

Liparia splendens / Mountain Dahlia / Skaamblom / Image:

Protea rosacea / Skaamblom / Image:

This protea was too shy to be photographed as I could only find this drawing. According to Conrad Lighton  in “Cape Flower Kingdom” nothing could better describe the bashful downward hang, or the coy side-turn, of a head of the beautiful Protea rosacea than skaamblom. The protea will get my vote.

I hope this Valentine’s Day you will be pleasantly surprised by an amazing wild flower that will leave you blushing, moving at night, bashful or coy.

Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees.

Quote from the movie Withnail and I (Thanks to Miss Apis Millifera)


From the bird’s mouth: geranium

Have you ever wondered about the origin of rose geranium essential oil’s name?  Pelargonium graveolens, the botanical name of the source of this oil, is not a geranium but a species in the Pelargonium genus, which is indigenous to various parts of southern Africa. So how did the essential oil get the name geranium if it is not from the geranium plant?  An interesting explanation for this was found in the book Cape Floral Kingdom by Conrad Lighton.

The garden and pot plants we commonly call geraniums are classified botanically as pelargoniums and they represent one of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s big contributions to the gardens (and window-boxes) of the world. There are actually very few true geraniums in South Africa and geranium is by far the older of the two names. The generic names for both species come from the mouths of two birds: geranium (geranos the Greek word for crane) was bestowed some 1800 years ago on a plant whose long-beaked seed vessel resembled a crane’s bill. More recently the name pelargonium (pelargos the Greek word for stork) was given to the plant whose seed vessel looked more like a stork’s bill. An example of the “crane’s bill”:

The seed vessel of Geranium sanguineum / Image: Wikipedia

If you’re still confused (as I was after this explanation) there is another way to tell the one from the other: the pelargonium has five petals which are unequally divided and the geranium has five equal petals symmetrically arranged.  This is an example of the geranium’s equal petals:

Geranium incanum / Carpet geranium / Horlosie / Vrouetee / Bergtee / Image:

Pelargonium graveolens cultivars have a wide variety of smells, including rose (rose geranium), citrus, mint, coconut, nutmeg as well as various fruits.  Here is an example of the unequally divided petals of a pelargonium also used for the distillation of rose geranium essential oil:

Pelargonium capitatum / Image:

Whether the seeds resembles a stork of a crane’s beak or the petals are equally divided or not, geraniums and pelargonium are both from Geraniaceae family, therefore the name of the essential oil. These modest plants bring colour to our gardens and window-boxes. And fragrance to our homes via the essential oil being used in food, soap (the Spanish Maja soap), and perfume (Geranium pour Monsieur by Frederic Malle and Geranium Perfume for Women by Yardley London). Indeed a word traveller from southern Africa!