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Geraniums Are Never Red

The bright red geraniums that trail from the balconies of Swiss chalets and clamber up palm trees in California aren’t, botanically speaking, geraniums at all, nor are they Swiss or Californian; in fact they are pelargoniums. They were first brought to Europe – and misidentified – after 1652, when the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) established a permanent settlement and a Company Garden at the Cape and started to explore the surrounding ora to bring back new botanical treasures, which apart from pelargoniums included proteas, ericas and many other mainstays of European gardens. By the time the confusion between the two species was resolved, ‘African geraniums’ had been around for 150 years and British commercial growers and gardeners were reluctant to give up the familiar name.