SCENTED GERANIUMS (Pelargonium species)

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SCENTED GERANIUMS (Pelargonium species)

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These are popular because of their pungent, spicy foliage aromas that are invaluable for potpourris, preserves, desserts, punches, vinegars, teas, and sachets. The oil in the leaves is often distilled for perfume making.

Scented geraniums are tender, shrubby perennials that are grown as annuals in Illinois. They are mostly erect types, growing to 3 feet tall, but there are also some trailing types. The leaves are generally soft and hairy, releasing a distinctive fragrance when crushed or bruised. Some of the more common scented geranium species are described here.

Rose Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens). This variety has hairy, deep green leaves that are divided and toothed, with a delicate, spicy rose scent. The rather unshowy flower clusters, with 5 to 10 florets, are rose to purple in color. Its leaves are used in jellies, potpourris, cakes, and puddings.

Lemon Geranium (P, crispum). This variety grows to a height of 3 feet; produces 3-lobed, stiff curly leaves and lilac pink flowers. Its fresh leaves are often floated in finger bowls, used in potpourris, or dried in bunches and hung in closets to give a pleasant lemon fragrance.

Apple Geranium (P. odoratissima). This variety sports a 1 1/2-foot trailing stems with ruffled leaves and white fluffy flowers. The leaves, which emit a sweet apple scent when crushed, are mostly used in potpourris.

Peppermint Geranium (P. tomentosum). A widespreading perennial, growing 1 to 2 feet tall. Leaves are 3 to 5 inches long, heart shaped, softly hairy above and wooly below, with a strong mint scent. Small white flowers with red centers appear in clusters. Excellent for hanging baskets. The fragrant foliage is best used in sachets, potpourris, and jellies.

Lime-Scented Geranium (P. nervosum). This variety produces a bushy, round plant with light green leaves and abundant, showy lavender flowers. The leaves are used primarily in potpourris.

Because geraniums that are grown from seed often don't have the same scent as the parent plant, it is best to start with cuttings rooted in damp sphagnum moss plus perlite or vermiculite. Plant geraniums outside after danger of frost is past in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Harvest the leaves any time, and use either fresh or dried. Before frost, take cuttings to root for growing indoors through the winter.

SOURCE: James C. Schmidt Department of Horticulture Michigan State University

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