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Pelargonium peltatum

Pelargonium peltatum; Ivy-leaved Pelargonium; Kolsuring (Afrikaans)

This is a creeping Pelargonium that is found in the drier, more succulent parts of the Valley Bushveld areas of the southern and eastern Cape. In KwaZulu-Natal, I have found this species in the low altitude Valley Bushveld of all the major river valleys that cut through the province.

It is a very rewarding plant to grow as it is tough and will grow under most conditions - even a bit of frost won’t harm it too much, as long as the plant is able to have its main stem and root system against a warm wall or amongst large boulders that will radiate heat during cold winter nights. As a garden subject it is a real winner - it creeps, is semi-succulent and will grow in full sun or in semi-shade, though it will flower more prolifically if it is in the sun.

The plants respond to a dry period when they will lose about two thirds of their leaves to cut down on water use, and then when the spring rains arrive, they’ll send out a new flush of the 5 lobed, scalloped-edged leaves. The name peltate, means that the leaf is shield-shaped and the stalk is attached to the centre of the leaf blade.

The clusters of flowers that are produced on the ends of growing stems appear in early summer and will last for at least 8 weeks. They are pink, suffused with mauve or purple on the upper two petals. The anthers are bright orange and stand out ready for pollinators that abound in these dry hot bushveld areas. I have only found carpenter bees and other insects visiting the flowers. The plants are vigourous and will clamber over anything in their path. I have this species in my garden growing up in a tree, about 6 metres above the ground. Each year the pink flowers appear and it looks like the tree is flowering, until you look more closely and find the lobed leaves of the Ivy-leaved Pelargonium.

This plant is propagated from seed or cuttings. In cultivation, unless you have a few different clones of the plant, you won’t get viable seed, but in the wild, the seeds are freely produced and float off on their silken parachutes. Ideally, take cuttings in spring and summer, when the plant is actively growing. Take a cutting of three nodes on the stem - two nodes will produce roots and the other produces the shoot. Set the cuttings in sharp river sand under mist or in a covered frame. Place the lower two nodes under the sand and when you see the shoot beginning to grow, then you know the cutting has rooted. Don’t keep the sand too damp as this will cause the cutting to rot. Many nurseries select forms that have showier or darker flowers with well-marked leaves.

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