( Originally Published 1933 )
(in warm climates)
The rose geranium comes from the Cape of Good Hope and is an attractive shrubby plant. It grows four feet high in warm climates, but where the winters go below freezing it has to be grown in a pot and does not reach its full height.
Root. The root is spreading and fibrous.
Stem. The stems are much branched, round, and covered with soft, short hairs.
Leaf. The leaves are opposite, darker above and lighter below, yellow green, much cut and divided generally into three divisions, which are again subdivided. They are subtended by bracts, and have long stems. The surface of the leaf curls up and down onto several planes, is covered with soft hairs, and is rough to the touch. It measures one and three-quarter inches in length and two inches across. When touched or bruised the leaves smell of roses and a dash of spice, and when cooked give the flavor of the roses to the food.
Flower. The flowers are about three-quarters of an inch across, pinkish-lavender, in umbels at the termination of the branches. Each umbel is subtended by six pointed sepal-like bracts. They are large enough to add to the beauty of the plant, the two upper petals being erect and marked with dark reddish-purple, while the three lower ones have no dark markings. The pistil has a five-parted, branching, insect-like stigma of reddish purple. The stamens are whitish, inconspicuous, placed around the base of the style, fairly numerous,—maybe ten.
Variety. E. M. Holmes, Genus Pelargonium in Perfumery and Essential Oil Record, July, 1913, lists forty-six different kinds of scented geraniums, most of which, he says, are native to the rocky slopes of South Africa.
The P. odoratissimum, Ait., called apple or nutmeg geranium, is a charming plant with gray-green, rounded, frilled, velvety leaves and small, white, fluttery flowers marked with magenta. It smells, when crushed, of camphor, rose, and geranium, but not as strongly as the rose geranium. There are others scented of lemon, mint, strawberry, peppermint, pennyroyal, fruity, of tansy, rose, and so on, some of them having handsome foliage and flowers. If one has a good place in which to store them over the winter, it is amusing to collect as many varieties as one can.
HISTORY AND LEGEND
The geranium was introduced into Europe in 1690. The plants were brought to Grasse, in southern France, in 1800, and to Algiers from France in 1850. A hap-hazard and unsuccessful experiment of growing it for the fragrant oil was made in Florida, in 1914-17.
Perfume. The rose geranium and its relatives are grown commercially for the fragrant oil distilled from the leaves, and Holmes says the growers keep as secret as possible the particular varieties grown. Sawyer says they grow varieties of P. odoratissimum, P. capitatum, and P. roseum (which is a variety of P. radula, l'Her.). The oil of geranium is used in perfumery to replace the attar of roses and perfumes tooth powders and ointments, and blends in with floral bouquets. Porcher says no well-perfumed soap of good quality is complete without a liberal quota of this raw material. In Provence a superfine oil is made by adding rose petals to the still.
Food. The leaves when cooked give the taste of the rose to puddings, custards, and jellies. They make pretty garnishes and add to the fragrance of bouquets.
When grown commercially, the cuttings are set out in well-sheltered beds in October and are planted out in terraces in April where they soon grow into bushes, three to four feet high. They are grown commercially in North Africa, Spain, Italy, Corsica, Réunion, and Provence. Different localities produce oils of varying odor values. The Spanish oil is considered the finest because the plants are not irrigated.
In the north the pelargoniums are grown in pots or as bedding plants for the pleasure of their fragrance, and to have the leaves for flavoring. I make my cuttings from November to January in a greenhouse from plants brought indoors. A friend brings her plants through the winter, but so far I have not been able to do this. Cuttings started in January make plants a foot tall by the end of June. I fill my pots with humus and leaf mold and give them a handful of sheep manure. In the ground they require a well-drained soil, and I often place them in the borders where they do well in ordinary garden soil. If cut back the plant forms a thickish bush.