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Why a Scented Leaf Pelargonium is not a scented geranium although at one point it was…confused you are not alone.

(December 29, 2016)

Concolor Lace
also known as (aka)
Shottesham Pet
This is an example of how a particular type of scented leaf pelargonium may be known by more than one name.
All of the 3 names are acceptable within the pelargonium world.

There are many reasons why a particular pelargonium might be known by different names.

  • many individual types of pelargonium, species and cultivars, have been introduced to the UK during the past 400 years and the original and unique characteristics were often never recorded.
  • as different travellers, and present day horticulturalists, brought specimens back plants were given a name, although the type may have already previously been introduced.
  • Cultivars, in particular, often cause an immense naming problem as  2 types may be so similar that it is just a minor character difference that sets them apart. e.g. leaf and flower look identical, shade of flower colour varies.  Resulting in 2 different names.

We have always been aware of the difference between a scented leaf pelargonium and a scented geranium.  Our website was intentionally named the latter as we really did set out to bring this beautiful group of plants to the attention of as many people as we could.  The use of keywords on any website is paramount to it being discovered, which is why we decided on using We would not have achieved such a high hit rate if we had used scented leaf pelargonium instead.  It might not be the most popular fact to state but the vast majority of people do still refer to the scented leaf pelargonium group as being scented geraniums.  Throughout our website we interchange the name, i.e. scented leaf pelargonium, scented geranium, scented (American term), SLP’s, SG’s and this is our way of attempting to keep everyone happy.

Referring to a plant by its correct name is a contentious issue and the plant purists really do get on their high horses about the subject of nomenclature.  Yes, they may be correct to do so but if many people know and enjoy the scented leaf pelargonium as a scented geranium how important is this naming issue?  I pose the question are we gardeners, botanists, taxonomists or even linguists?  For the majority of us we are ordinary people who love our plants in our gardens and they provide us with immense pleasure and a rewarding relaxation or hobby.  Most of us would state that we are a gardener and we wouldn’t have a clue what a botanist or a taxonomist is or does?  And just how many of us understand Latin?  It isn’t that we are not interested but there is only so many hours, days, years in a lifetime and it is impossible to acquire knowledge about everything. 

The early Pioneers who travelled around the world and brought back plant specimens
John Tradescant the younger is considered to have introduced the first pelargonium species to England during the 1620’s, however, he recorded the plant as being a geranium. The subject of nomenclature had not been thought of or introduced at this time, as this came into existence over 100 years later. 

Botanical Nomenclature is the formal, scientific naming of plants
I’ll keep this as simple and as brief as is possible to make sense, especially as I am not a Botanist. 

Many hundreds of years ago Latin was primarily the most common language spoken in European countries.  As plants were being discovered and brought back to various countries individual types of plants were often known by several different names. 

Linnaeus introduced the binary system of nomenclature for plant species in his work ‘Species Plantarum (1753)’.  This system gave each plant species its own unique name which remained unaltered even when other species were added to the genus.  By the 19th Century the rules for the naming of plants were extended and the key dates are as follows:

triste flower
P. triste
a night scented Species pelargonium, South African origin.  P. triste is considered to be one of the earliest types to have been introduced to the UK.  This Species has been used extensively as a 'Parent' for many pelargonium cultivars that we are familiar with today.
  • 1867 – Lois de Candolle
  • 1906 – International Rules of Nomenclature, ‘Vienna Rules’
  • 1952 – International Code of Nomenclature, ‘Stockholm Code’

 To summarise: 

  • A pelargonium was known as a geranium up until Linnaeus introduced his binary system in 1753. 
  • From 1753 and up until the present day it is officially categorised as being a pelargonium.
  • Any cultivar hybridised from the pelargonium genus is also a pelargonium.

  • A geranium is a completely different category of plant and is mainly a hardy perennial that we leave in our gardens all year.

 2 old men talking

'I say it is P. jordan'.....'no it is definitely P. katie price'

Definition 1 = gardener

Definition 2 = plant purist

Plant Taxonomy
Plant taxonomy is an empirical science and is, therefore, subjective.  They look at questions such as:

  • What plants belong to this species?
  • What species belong to this genus?

The interesting point to plant taxonomy is that should the views of taxonomist ‘A’ differ from taxonomist ‘B’ they are both entitled to their viewpoint and each will be recognised.  Even if the plant is one and the same it could well end up with more than one name which will lead to considerable confusion.  If the unique nomenclature cannot be agreed upon within the ICBN system the plant may well indeed have more than one legitimate name until further scientific research can resolve this.

 COPTHORNE FLOWERS 3 00m 07s (2)

We just

hearts image

'smellie pellie's

Whoops...there we go again
we mean our

Scented Leaf Pelargoniums



The pelargonium v geranium name debate will continue for many years to come without a doubt!

Scientifically it has been proven that a geranium and a pelargonium are definitely different plants.  However, I believe that there is a Cultural element to this name debate and I am not referring to growing plants.  It goes back through many generations within our families and our Society and I certainly remember my Granny talking lovingly about her geraniums which she always grew and cosseted.  They were pelargoniums.

If you love a type of scented leaf pelargonium and you are comfortable with calling it a Scented Geranium I for one am more than happy for you to do so.  After all I fully understand what plant you are talking about and the botanical or taxonomical name will never detract from the sheer pleasure that Nature provides for us. 
Is nomenclature really that important to a Gardener?

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