A true geranium, Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) is different from the geraniums we commonly see in flowerpots, which belong to a related genus, Pelargonium. Also called wild cranesbill or cranesbill, the plant’s genus name “Geranium” derives from a Greek word meaning “crane” and describes the long, thin pod resembling the beak of a wild crane. The name of the species “viscosissimum,” and the common name “sticky” refers to the fine, glandular hairs densely covering the leaves and stems that cling to anything that touches them.
Unlike carnivorous plants which trap and digest whole insects, Sticky Geranium is classified as a protocarnivorous plant. It extracts protein, especially the nitrogen contained in protein, from insects that are trapped in the sticky hairs covering the foliage. Although botanists aren’t sure exactly how it works, it can give the plant much-needed nutrients to compensate for nutrient-poor soils.
A herbaceous perennial, Sticky Geranium thrives in mid to high elevation grasslands, prairies, along streams, and in open forests in the western United States, the Great Basin and Rocky Mountain regions, and throughout the western Canada.
Light pink to dark purplish pink flowers bloom from late spring until August or until frost depending on elevation. The flowers are five-petalled with darker colored veins running the length of the petals. The green tips of five sepals protrude between the petals at their base. Ten stamens, joined at the base, are grouped in the center of the petals around five pistils. The flowers grow in loosely branching clusters at the tips of hairy stems above the deeply lobed leaves.
The leaves are webbed, three to five inches in diameter, with five to seven deeply notched pointed lobes. They rise mostly from the base of the plant on long stalks, with a few growing along the flower stalks. Overall, the plant grows one to three feet tall and spreads about the same width. The medium green foliage and pink to purple flowers of Sticky Geranium are attractive in the wild or in a garden.
After flowering, the petals drop and the fruit develops into a distinctive half-inch beak-like capsule. When mature, the capsule splits open into five recoil segments and tiny seeds sprout. In order to collect the seeds, the capsules should be picked when they begin to turn brown but before they open.
All parts of Sticky Geranium are astringent and help stop bleeding by constricting blood vessels. Native American peoples and herbalists used plasters and ointments made from the leaves and roots to stop bleeding. The flowers are edible and add a colorful touch to salads or as an attractive garnish.
Sticky Geranium is pollinated by native bees, butterflies and flies. It is the host plant for 10 different species of moths. It is delicious in borders, perennial beds and as an underplant for shrubs or taller trees. Easy to grow, it is relatively pest and disease free and requires little watering. Deadheading will bring end-of-season blooms.
Pictures and a description of Sticky Geranium can be found on page 154 of Landscaping with Native Plants in the Idaho Panhandle, a KNPS publication available at local bookstores and the Bonner County History Museum. Other native plants can be seen at the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum, 611 S Ella St. in Sandpoint.
Native Plant Notes are created by the Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society. To learn more about KNPS and the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum, visit www.nativeplantsociety.org.