Durbanville Nature Reserve – Night scented Pelargonium – 3


The night-scented pelargonium is a geophyte, usually about 25 cm (9.8 in), exceptionally up to 50 cm (20 in) high, that loses all above ground parts when it enters dormancy during the dry, hot summer. It lacks spines. From the subterranean rootstock emerge tuberous roots. The stems are hard and woody at their base and succulent towards their tip, initially green but eventually brown, and rough due to the scars left by discarded stipules and petioles. It is up to 15 cm (5.9 in) long and 0.5–1 cm (0.20–0.39 in) thick. The leaves in the basal rosette look somewhat like those of a carrot and are at least twice as long as wide, 10–45 cm (3.9–17.7 in) long and 4–15 cm (1.6–5.9 in) wide, on a petiole of up to 12 cm (4.7 in) long. These leaves may be upright or lay down. They are herbaceous, variably covered in short glandular hairs between short, whitish hairs. The rosette leaves are pinnately divided, the segments themselves mostly further pinnately divided or incised in linear leaflets or lobes, up to four times in total. The highest order leaflets are usually about 1 mm wide, but up to 8 mm wide in less divided leaves. The base of the segments is wedge-shaped or narrow into a stalk while the tips are rounded or squared-off, the margins entire and rolled upwards. The stipules are heart-shaped or oval with pointy tips, 5–8 mm (0.20–0.31 in) long and 6–10 mm (0.24–0.39 in) wide, thin and pliable becoming dry, and initially densely pubescent on the underside.

The flowers are 6 to 15 together in an umbel-like cluster on top of a sturdy unbranched peduncle of 5–25 cm (2.0–9.8 in) long and maximally 2.5 mm (0.098 in) in diameter. The part of the stalk of the individual flowers that contains the hollow, spur-like hypanthium is 30–55 mm (1.2–2.2 in) long, much longer than the remainder of the pedicel at its base that is up to 4 mm (0.16 in) long. The pedicel is densely set with straight, perpendicular (or strigose) hairs and with glandular hairs. The five sepals are 5–7 mm (0.20–0.28 in) long and 1–3 mm (0.039–0.118 in) wide, narrowly oval in shape with pointy tips, the outside densely strigose and some glandular hairs, the inside hairless, the margins with a row of hairs (or ciliate), dull green to yellowish green in color and sometimes with russet colored and slightly transparent margins. The five petals are almost equal in size and spade-shape with rounded tips, 10–18 mm (0.39–0.71 in) long, pale yellow in color but often adorned with a vague or intense burgundy to purplish black blotch that may leave only the outer margin yellow. The posterior two petals are 4–8 mm (0.16–0.31 in) wide, strongly curved backwards at their base and somewhat curved forwards at their tip. The anterior three petals are 2.5–6.0 mm (0.098–0.236 in) wide and less markedly reflexed. Four long and three short filaments initially carry anthers (best determined in a bud), three filaments are sterile. The pollen is bright yellow in color. The pale green, pear-shaped ovary is 3.5–4.5 mm (0.14–0.18 in) long and about 2.0 mm (0.079 in) wide, densely covered in hairs pointing to the tip. It is topped by a 2.0–2.5 mm (0.079–0.098 in) long style, that branches into five, reddish, curved stigmas.

Fruit and mericarps, showing plumes that assist distribution by wind and the coiled axil that aids in hygroscopic drilling to plant the seed

Like in all Geraniaceae, the fruit is reminiscent of the head and bill of a stork. It is schizocarp and consists of five units or mericarps. At the base of each mericarp is the enclosed seed that is 7–10 mm (0.28–0.39 in) long in the night-scented pelargonium, and a tail of 35–45 mm (1.4–1.8 in) long. The mericarps of Pelargonium are light and carry feather-like hairs to act like parachutes when dry and enable distribution by the wind. The awns of the mericarps coil when drying and uncoil when getting moist. These motions screw the seeds into the ground and in crevices.


The night-scented pelargonium is common in parts of the Northern and Western Cape Provinces of South Africa, from the Cape Peninsula in the southwest to the Orange River in the north and Mossel Bay in the east. It can be found on coastal sands, but is also present on slopes up to an elevation of 1,800 m (5,900 ft). Across this entire region, most precipitation falls during the winter half year, but the annual rainfall varies over its distribution area from about 100 mm (3.9 in) to over 600 mm (24 in). It is most apparent in open areas, but as the fynbos develop, the plants get shaded by the surrounding shrubs and stop flowering. The large underground tuber, however, enables the plants to survive for many years and reappear after a fire has destroyed the above ground vegetation. The deep hypanthium and night scents are suggestive that the flowers are pollinated by night-active, long-tongued insects such as moths. In Pelargonium, the seed capsule splits open along its length when dry, so releasing the seeds. The seed is dispersed on the wind carried by its feathery plumes. Each seed has a section in its tail that is spiraled when dry and uncoils when moist. Once the seed settles on the soil, it drills into the soil as it coils and uncoils with varying moisture. The continued survival of the night-scented pelargonium is considered to be of least concern.

Night scented Pelargonium, Pelargonium triste, Durbanville Nature Reserve, Durbanville, South Africa
  • Location: Durbanville Nature Reserve, Durbanville, South Africa
  • Date Taken: 2020-10-25
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: Canon Zoom Lens EF-S 18-200 mm 3-5.6 IS
  • Exposure Program: Manual
  • Image Quality: RAW
  • F-Stop: f/7.1
  • Exposure Time: 1/200 sec
  • ISO Speed: ISO-100
  • Focal Length: 135 mm
  • Metering Mode: Spot Metering
  • Handheld
  • Post Processing: Adobe Photoshop CS6
  • Photographer: Coreen Kuhn
  • Information: Wikipedia

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