geranium, common name for some members of the Geraniaceae, a family of herbs and small shrubs of temperate and subtropical regions. Their long, beak-shaped fruits give them the popular names crane's-bill (for species of the genus Geranium, the true geranium), heron's-bill (genus Erodium ), and stork's-bill (genus Pelargonium ). The American wild geranium, or wild crane's-bill, has rose-to-purple five-petaled flowers and handsome, deeply forked leaves; the woodland herb Robert is similar but smaller. Florists' geraniums are hybrid varieties of the S African genus Pelargonium in which the "petals" are actually highly modified stamens. Geraniums are cultivated not only as ornamentals but for the aromatic oils extracted from their foliage and flowers for use in flavorings and perfumes. Geraniums are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Geraniales, family Geraniaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.