Difference Between Geraniums and Pelargoniums
By Rebecca Rodriguez - April 1, 2023

For many years, there has been a great misunderstanding about hardy geranium. The annual geranium (pelargonium) is commonly called geranium. But they couldn’t be more different. The source of this confusion comes from when Pelargoniums were brought to North America from South Africa. As a result, gardeners inadvertently misclassified them, which was only corrected in the 1700s.

Chart Summary
  1. Geraniums are tolerant of cold temperatures
They die in the cold
  1. The genus includes over 400 species
The genus includes over 280 species
  1. They have five identical petals
They have two different upper petals from the three lower ones
Close-Up Of Geranium Pelargonium Flowers

Getty images/Moment/Nenov


Geranium (genus Geranium) is sometimes known as cranesbill. Around three hundred species of temperate herbaceous plants in the Geraniaceae family are native primarily to subtropical southern Africa.

Pelargonium species are evergreen perennials native to the world’s mild temperate and tropical climates, with numerous species found in southern Africa. They can withstand dryness and heat but only light frosts. Some varieties are prevalent garden plants and are often planted as houseplants and bedding plants in temperate climates. They have a long flowering cycle with predominantly red, orange, or white blooms.

Geraniums vs. Pelargoniums

True hardy geraniums are perennial plants that regrow after becoming dormant in the winter and do not need to be replanted. Cranesbills are another name for hardy geraniums. The name is derived from the form of its seed pod, which resembles a crane’s beak. The cranesbill disperses its seeds by opening its beak and spreading them long distances.
Pelargoniums typically die in the winter in frost-prone locations. As a result, most people treat them as annuals, replacing the plants each year. Pelargoniums also have a seed pod, which is not shaped like a crane’s beak. Seed dispersal occurs when seeds are picked up and blown away by the wind.

Pelargoniums, like cranesbills, have five petals. The two upper petals, however, have a distinct shape and size from the rest, giving them an asymmetrical look. Unlike real hardy geraniums, which have low and spreading foliage, pelargoniums have tall stems that become woody as they age. Some can reach six feet in height when grown in their native, frost-free environment.