National Geographic : 1947 Jul
More Africans, "Brought Back Alive" N MANY ways the plant hunter is very fortunate, for, unlike the animal collector, his "game" does not require elaborate traps. Furthermore, instead of hiding furtively or running away at the approach of the hunter, it often waves its multicolored banners in the air, seemingly attracting as much attention as possible, as, in fact, it is. Fortunately, the plant hunter usually has better eyesight even than the bees. FRINGED HIBISCUS (Hibiscus schizo petalus): The usually sparse branches and scattered leaves of this shrub from tropical East Africa of themselves would scarcely be attractive enough to cause it to be grown in our frost-free gardens. Also, it is to be ad mitted that the flowers are not particularly abundant. But when even one of those buds, swaying on its long, pendent stalk, swells up and bursts open, the result is recompense enough for having carefully tended the plant. PELARGONIUM or "GERANIUM" (Pelar gonium, various species): There are upward of 250 species in the genus Pelargonium, most of them occurring in South Africa. But first let us try to clear up several items concerning the proper name for these plants. Although popularly termed "Geraniums," this group ac tually should have another name. Geranium comes from the Greek word for "crane" and refers to the shape of the fruit; the true gera niums are often called Cranesbill. Many of us are familiar with the common woodland Geranium maculatum, which some times is brought into gardens with success, and the even more familiar garden plant, Geranium sanguineum, a native of Eurasia. Pelargonium was derived from the Greek word for "stork"; again, the shape of the fruit has led to another common name, Storksbill. Although similar in general appearance, there is a technical dif ference between the flowers of Geranium and Pelargonium sufficient for botanists to keep the species in separate genera. Realizing this state of affairs and desiring greater precision, many gardeners are turning to the scientific names and call their plants either Geraniums or Pelargoniums to avoid confusion. It is a good idea: consequently, for the remainder of this note, I shall try to refer to these plants as "Pelargoniums." A collection of wild Pelargoniums is inter esting to examine. Many of them will look much like those with which we are familiar. Others will not. Since the group is native in South Africa, some species have ventured into the drier and semidesert areas and there taken on different characters. Some of these have coarse, clubby, even spiny stems, looking very much like cacti. Also, like the cacti, some of these desert Pelargoniums have almost lost their leaves, the thickened green stems having taken over the function of leaves and also act ing as water-storage organs during periods of drought. Other species which favored moister conditions became leafy, trailing, or scram bling vinelike plants. In many of the erect-growing leafy species the plants have a strong odor, leading to such names as Apple-, Rose-, Lemon-, and Nutmeg "Geraniums" (or Pelargoniums!). Because of considerable hybridization in the past, it now is extremely difficult to decide just which of the wild species were ancestral to our culti vated forms. The most frequently grown is the Fish-Pelargonium; this is the common "Geranium" of pot and window-box culture. Today in its many color phases it is used also as an effective bedding-out plant. In southern Florida and California it will grow year after year, forming great woody plants which, if carefully pruned and trained, can be made to cover fences and trellises. GLADIOLUS (Gladiolus, various species): The 200 or more species of this important garden group are scattered from the Medi terranean southward through Africa, the greatest concentration being in the Cape re gion. Except in a few collections brought together from the wild, none of the material grown today looks very much like the original species. Like Pelargonium, the genus Gladi olus has been a fertile field for the hybridist so that, today, they come in such a wide variety of forms and colors that there is no use here to attempt even an introduction to a subject about which a whole book could be written. When Linnaeus christened this genus about 200 years ago, he did not have our modern showy-flowered plants to study and apparently was more impressed with the shape of the "swordlike" leaves; consequently, he used the name Gladiolus, from the Latin, meaning "little sword." The word "gladiator" comes from the same base. AFRICAN-VIOLET (Saintpaulia ionantha): This charming blue-flowered African plant was named in honor of its discoverer, Baron Walter von Saint Paul. The plants may be grown from seed but usually are propagated from leaf cuttings. Although Africa does have its native true violets, this is not one of them; the African- or Usambara-"Violet" is a member of the Gesneria Family.