Description & Overview
Wild Geranium is a Wisconsin native perennial with delightful loose clusters of saucer-shaped purple-pink flowers with white centers in May through June. The flower are borne above attractive, open clumps of deeply cut, green foliage. This native perennial is great when planted en masse or mixed in with other partial-shade friendly plants. It can tolerate full sun so long as the soil doesn’t dry out. Wild Geranium spreads slowly via shallow rhizomes and self-seeding. May also be known as Spotted Geranium, Cranesbill.
Wild Geranium is quite adaptable to various soil types, soil moistures, and light levels, but it performs best with some shade to keep roots cool.
It’s a bolder perennial for an urban lot that will provide an early burst of well-needed color after those long Wisconsin winters. As summer winds down and the leaves develop great fall color, turning a pinky-red that ages to a deep burgundy color.
Wild Geraniums can also be used in restoration plantings – they are low maintenance, can take hold after large stands of garlic mustard are removed (albeit, slowly), and is tolerant of juglone toxicity, Black Walnut Toxicity.
It’s not suggested for areas where direct, heavy road or sidewalk salt is used.
As a spring bloomer, Wild Geraniums offer an important energy source for a variety of spring-flying insects after coming out of dormancy. Insects such as: small carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), sweat bees (Lasioglossum spp.), bumble bees (Bombus spp.), sweat bees (Halictus spp.), mason bees (Osmia spp.), Syrphid flies, White-marked tussock moths (Orgyia leucostigma), and a specialist mining bee, Andrena distans, which collects pollen only from flowers in the genus Geranium. Any plant that is appealing to insects is going to draw the attention of birds that eat those insects. By planting Wild Geraniums, you may see more Mourning Doves, Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, and maybe even quail (if you’re in the right area) feeding on these insects and seeds.
Eastern Chipmunks will occasionally eat the seeds, and White-tailed deer may browse foliage; suggesting more supplementary nutrition than a staple food in most mammals’ diet.
As with almost all native plants, maintenance and care is minimal. Mulching around new plantings will help keep the roots moist and cool. Foliage may appear yellow or go summer dormant if soil dries out.
Three to four weeks after the bloom period, if self-seeding is not desired, you can clip the fruiting structure off the stalk. Deadheading may prolong the bloom period.
Yearling deer may browse flowers and foliage in Spring – but will quickly learn it’s not as palatable as those daylilies! Rabbits tend to avoid bothering Geraniums.
In a natural setting, forest floors can be abundant in Wild Geraniums – they will self-seed if left alone. While colonizing via rhizomes, they are not aggressive spreaders and can easily be kept in-check.
Leaf spot may occur and isn’t considered detrimental to the plant’s health.
Wild Geranium is a common plant of deciduous woodlands, mesic lowlands, and floodplains. They often leaf-out before trees and shrubs, allowing them to capitalize on the short period of sunlight that reaches the forest floor. It’s typically found in oak-hickory, maple-beech-birch woodlands, distributed throughout most of Wisconsin.
- Geranium maculatum has the largest, showiest flowers of all Wisconsin native Geraniums.
- Geranium: from the Greek geranos, “crane,” from the beak-like fruit. As the fruit matures, seed capsules curl upward and backward to catapult the seeds from the mother plant – a means of seed dispersal!
- G. maculatum was used medicinally by Native Americans to treat diarrhea. The rhizomes contain tannic and gallic acids; these give it an astringent quality that may also promote blood clotting and treating open sores or wounds.
Plants that appreciate similar site conditions or are often found together in natural settings:
- Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
- Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), Ligularia (Ligularia spp.)
- Giant Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
- Elm-leafed Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia)
- Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
- Canadian Yew (Taxus canadensis)
- Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)
- Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana)
- False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
- American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
- Hostas (Hosta spp.)
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)
Plants with similar bloom times and/or color:
- Wild Blue Lupine (Lupinus perennis)
- Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
- Canadian Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
- Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
- Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
- Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)
- Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)
- Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)