Geranium conundrum

This task I have set myself of identifying wild flowers really does challenge what I thought I knew, as well as making me realise how much I don’t know! What I do (or did) know comes largely from what I learnt from my Mum as a fairly young child, and through a primary school wild-flower-pressing competition, which I won for finding and identifying the most species (with Mum’s considerable help, no doubt).

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

For example, everyone knows Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum). Well, everyone who did a primary school wildflower identification project does! Along with Ragged Robin and Red Campion it is one of the countryside stalwarts, sometimes even seen as a weed it is so widespread. So when I saw them here I knew exactly what they were. But then I started to notice that some of the plants I was looking at had much smaller and slightly paler flowers than the usual ones. Were these just young plants, or growing in a more shaded place? It seems they are actually Lesser Herb Robert, or Little Robin (Geranium purpureum) – a new one to me.

Little Robin (Geranium purpureum)

Apparently the only significant difference, apart from the size of the flowers, is the colour of the anthers (the bits of the ends of the stamens where you find pollen). These are yellow on Little Robin, and orange on Herb Robert, although unless you find fresh young flowers it is often quite difficult to tell.

These are not the only geraniums that have given me some headaches in recent weeks. The more varieties I spot and identify, the more similar-but-different varieties I find. For example, Dove’s Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle) is distinctive by the shape of its leaves – roundish overall, with 5-7 lobes, each lobe being usually 3-toothed. However, if these leaves are slightly shiny (and only 5-lobed), and the flower a bit of a different shape, it could be Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum).

Dove’s Foot Cranesbill (Geranium molle)

Shining Cranesbill (Geranium lucidum)

Then, with very similar flowers to Dove’s Foot Cranesbill, but with very different leaves, is the Cut-Leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum). Easy, I thought – the leaves are a giveaway. But then I found Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) – with very similar dissected leaves, but this time the flowers are much larger and a lovely deep magenta colour.

Cut-Leaved Cranesbill (Geranium dissectum)

Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum)

So, from a start point of Herb Robert, I have now discovered five more wildflower geraniums – and I’m sure there many are others out there. Which makes me think: cultivated geraniums are probably a good bet for growing in a garden around here!