The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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The Other Side of Beekeeping

The Geraniaceae – The Geranium Family

- August 1, 2015 - - (excerpt)

Worldwide the Geraniaceae consists of about 750-800 species of mainly annual and perennial herbs, a few subshrubs, and rarely woody, and then generally soft woody plants.

The leaves are usually alternately, occasionally oppositely arranged, and are often palmately though sometimes pinnately veined. The pubescence is often glandular.1

The flowers are generally regular (generally more or less radially symmetrical) with the parts of similar size and shape. Sometimes, however all the petals may not be exactly the same size or shape, in which case, they are said to be zygomorphic.2 The petals range in color through white, blue, mauve, red, and pink but not yellow. The petals often alternate with the nectar glands. The flower parts are attached near the base of the ovary and free from it (superior ovary ) and both male and female parts are present (perfect). There are 5 to 10, rarely15, stamens, some often sterile as indicated by the lack of anthers.

Fruiting is one of the more interesting aspects of the family. The pistil generally consists of 5, (more rarely 3) united carpels.3 The styles4 are long and united around a central axis5 and the stigmas6 are distinct. The assemblage becomes a long-beaked elastic capsule (technically a schizocarp) in which the styles of the pistil split away from the central axis starting at the base, with the split progressing upward. In the Geraniums this is often followed by the individual carpels curling upward carrying their seeds with them. In the Erodiums there is a kind of spiraling around the central axis. Each carpel contains 1 to 2 seeds.

Sometimes the Erodiums serve as part of a domestic animal forage, but mostly they seem to be thought of mainly as weeds. Some species of the family provide essential oils that are used in the perfume industry. By far, however, their greatest use is ornamental. The cold sensitive members of the family are sometimes used as annual bedding plants or house plants.[3, 18 &19]

Storks’s bill, Redstem stork’s bill, Common stork’s bill, Filaree, Redstem-filaree, Wild musk, Pin-clover, Pin grass, Pin weed, Alfilaria, Alfilaree, Common crowfoot, Small crowfoot, Heron’s bill, Common heron’s bill, Cut-leaf erodium, Cut-leaf heron’s-bill and a variety of names with different punctuations and capitalizations than the above.7

Scientific name: Erodium cicutarium

Synonyms: Erodium aethiopicum

Origin: Probably the Mediterranean region.

Plant description: The species is a winter annual8 or biennial. The stems at first flowering are quite short and mostly basal, later becoming diffusely branched and reaching lengths of about 40 cm (~15.4 in). The plant can be either ascending or prostrate. The principal leaves are elongate-oblanceolate9, pinnately compound with several sessile10, ovate or oblong deeply and irregularly cleft pinnae11, each 1-2.5 cm (~0.39-0.98 in) long.

The inflorescence is long stemmed, usually with 2 to 8 florets, each with floret stems 1-2 mm (~ 0.04-0.08 in) long. The sepals12 are 5-7 mm (~0.02-0.28 in) long, each tipped with a sharp slender point or bristle. The 5 to 8 mm (~0.2 to 0.32 in) long petals are pinkish. The anther-bearing filaments are without teeth. The nectar is secreted on the outer edge of the 5 stamens and collects in a little hollow outside the base of the outer stamens. The fruits (see margin) are 2-4 cm (~ 0.79-1.6 in) long and resemble the bills of certain water fowl, hence some of the common names.[ 6 & 13 ]

Distribution: While the origin of the species is the Mediterranean region of Europe, the species has become naturalized in most temperate regions of the world. It is most often found in dry sandy or rocky locations including roadsides, fields, cultivated land (gardens etc.) See Map for North American distribution.[6&24]

Blooming period: Gleason and Cronquist[6], which covers the Northeastern part of the U.S. and Contiguous parts of Canada, provides a blooming period of April- September. Pellett[17] passes on blooming date information from the following areas: California: February and March, and in some cases continuing on through the summer; Mobile, Alabama area: June; Connecticut: May and June. Vansell and Eckert[22], writing about California bee forage, indicate that the genus blooms principally in the spring. Burgett et al.[4] indicate that it blooms in Oregon and more generally the Pacific Northwest in spring. Harvey Lovell[11] indicates that it blooms in late winter and early spring in the southwestern U.S. The Jepson Manual, covering California, provides a blooming date range of February to September.[1]

Importance as a honey plant: From his questionnaires, Oertel[15] found the species to be important in AZ, TX, UT, and AL and just the genus to be of at least some importance in CA and CT. From their questionnaires, Ayers and Harman[2] could not identify particular species, but found the genus to be of at least some importance in CA, CO, AZ, NV, and AZ.

Honey potential: Burgett et al.[4], writing about Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, indicate that the species is a good early source of nectar and pollen. They also report the nectar sugar content to be as high as 61%. Pellett[17] passes on the information from Vansell that the sugar concentration is “higher than any other source examined”. Wilson et al.[23], working in Colorado at elevations between 4500-7500 ft, found the nectar sugar content to range between 58.3-59.3%, but despite the high sugar content, it did not appear to be especially attractive to honey bees. The authors speculate that this might be because of the scarcity of the plants in the area in which they were working. While Pellett[17] recognized that the plant was probably most important for spring stimulation, he comments that it had been reported as being a source of surplus in California.

While the 1931 bulletin Nectar and Pollen Plants of California by Vansell[21] does not seem to mention Erodium cicutarium, the 1941 Vansell and Eckert bulletin mentions it, but adds no additional information pertaining to total honey production.

Honey: Pellett[17], passing on comments from various individuals around the country makes the statement that in California the plant produces “considerable honey of good quality.” Vansell and Eckert[22], in their text, describe the honey as extra-light amber to white.

Pollen: Burgett et al.[4] indicate that the pollen is …