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Feature Expedition

Flora of the Britain and Ireland: Geranium

SpecimensRoyal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The genus Geranium derives its name from the Greek noun géranos meaning Crane which gives this genus its English common-name ‘cranesbill.’ It is a reference to the beak-like appearance of the seed column of these plants which springs open when ripe and casts seeds a considerable distance.

Within Britain and Ireland you may have come across ‘Herb Robert’ (Geranium robertianum L.) in shaded spots on woodland or coastal walks, or closer to home growing by sheltered walls. In English folklore it was believed to be the plant of the house goblin, Robin Goodfellow. He is depicted as hairy, red-featured, and carrying a candlestick, qualities shared with the plant include colour, hairiness and candlestick beaks. Other species native to the British Isles include Meadow cranesbill (G. pratense L.), grassland dwelling Doves-foot cranesbill (G. molle L.) and coastal Bloody cranesbill (G. sanguineum L.) which is the county flower of Northumberland.

Confusingly, "geranium" is also the common name used to refer to cultivars within the closely related genus Pelargonium, which are widely grown as horticultural bedding plants.

The collections from Britain and Ireland held within the RBGE Herbarium are estimated to number over 500,000 specimens of cryptogams (algae, fungi, lichens and mosses), ferns, gymnosperms and flowering plants. We are in the process of digitising these collections, much of which has been carried out by volunteers who have taken part in our annual British DataBlitz, creating basic records for the specimens. We have then been able to use smaller funded projects to add images to these records.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s extensive Herbarium numbers nearly three million specimens representing half to two thirds of the world's flora. It is considered a leading botanical collection, and every year many researchers from around the world visit to study our specimens.

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