Geranium sanguineum (Bloody Cranesbill)

Geranium sanguineum is commonly known as Bloody Cranesbill or Bloody Geranium.

It is a charming semi-evergreen herbaceous perennial that forms a dense clump of lush green leaves that turn reddish in the cold weather, hence the name “bloody”.

During the blooming season, vibrant purple-pink, bowl-shaped flowers emerge from the foliage, creating a striking contrast against the deep green leaves.

It is a hardy, drought-tolerant plant native to Europe and temperate regions of West Asia.

Geranium sanguineum plant (Bloody cranesbill, bloody geranium)


Quick Overview

TYPE

Type herbaceous

HEIGHT & WIDTH

gereanium sanguineum height and width

BLOOM TIME

Geranium sanguineum bloom time

SUNLIGHT

HARDINESS

hardiness (-15ºC / 5º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 4 months

ORIGIN

Bloody Cranesbill Scientific name

  • Botanical name: Geranium sanguineum (JER-ay-nee-um  san-GWIN-ee-um)
  • Family: Geraniaceae (ger-a-ni-AY-see-ee)
  • Synonyms: Geranium grandiflorum
  • Common name: Bloody Cranesbill, Bloody Geranium.
NameMeaning
GeraniumFrom the Greek word “géranos”, meaning “crane”, referring to the seed head, which is long with a pointed beak resembling the long bill of a crane bird.
sanguineum From the Latin word “sanguineus” which means “blood-red,” referring to the red colour of the leaves in cold weather.

How to identify Geranium sanguineum

Geranium sanguineum plant (Bloody cranesbill, bloody geranium)

Plant

Geranium sanguineum is a semi-evergreen, herbaceous perennial with an upright to decumbent growth habit. It forms a dense, dark green clump that gradually spreads through its rhizomes into a small ground cover.

Bowl-shaped flowers emerge from the foliage from late spring to early summer and, in warmer climates, also during autumn. The flowers are usually purple-pink but can have other colours, such as pink, pale pink or white, depending on the cultivar. 

The average height is 20 cm (0.6 ft), and the width is 30 –  40 cm (1 – 1.3 ft).

Note: Under the right conditions, it seeds easily in the garden and supports root competition and shade when planted at the base of trees and shrubs.

Geranium sanguineum stem (Bloody cranesbill, bloody geranium)

Stem

Geranium sanguineum has green hairy stems. They are upright to decumbent and branch extensively, giving the plant a bushy appearance.

They are thin but quite strong and can stand up easily while carrying the weight of the leaves and flowers.

The leaves grow opposite each other along the stem at each node, while the flowers emerge at the tips of the branches.

Geranium sanguineum leaf (Bloody cranesbill, bloody geranium)

Leaf

The leaves are green but turn reddish in the cold months. They are hairy on both sides. The basal leaves form a rosette, while the upper leaves are opposite at the nodes.

The leaf is palmate and deeply divided into 5 to 7 segments (resembling an open hand, where each segment is a finger). On the upper half, each segment has 3 to 6 lobes.

The length and width are around around 2.2 – 7 cm ( 1- 3 inches).

Geranium sanguineum flower (Bloody cranesbill, bloody geranium)

Flower

The inflorescence usually consists of just one stellate flower, though sometimes it may have two flowers. It can be up to 5 cm (1.5 inches) in size.

Each flower has 5 purple-pink petals, with dark veins and some hairs at the base. They are surrounded by lance-shaped hairy sepals with a pointy tip.

At the centre of the flower are 10 stamens with purple anthers and a pistil with a lobed stigma.

The flowers usually bloom in spring and summer but in warmer climates can also bloom during autumn.

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Geranium sanguineum fruit (Bloody cranesbill, bloody geranium)

Fruit

The fruit of Bloody Cranesbill is a capsule with an elongated, slender body that narrows down at the tip, giving it a beak-like appearance. It resembles the bill (beak) of crane birds, which is why it is called “Crane’s bill.”

The fruit is a schizocarp, a special type of fruit that splits open along specific lines to disperse the seeds within.

The colour is green, turning light brown as it dries out, and the length is around 3-4 cm (1.2-1.6 inches).

The fruit appears after flowering and matures during the summer months.


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Geranium sanguineum Habitat

Geranium sanguineum is native to Europe and to the temperate regions of West Asia. It can be found in meadows, bushes, rocky areas, roadsides, in holm oak and beech forests. It typically grows at elevations ranging from 450 to 1800 meters (1500 to 5900 feet)

Geranium sanguineum Usage

Ornamental

Bloody Cranesbill is a charming plant with year round interest. It forms a bushy mound of lush green leaves that contrast with the vibrant purple-pink flowers. 

After the blooming season is over and the cold weather sets in, the foliage colour changes to red and bronze extending its visual interest into the autumn months.

It is also a tough perennial that requires little attention, making it an excellent option for a low-maintenance garden.

It can be used in the landscape in the following ways:

  1. Ground Cover: Its spreading habit and dense growth make it an excellent choice for a ground cover in sunny or shaded areas. Since it can easily tolerate both root competition and shade it is ideally suited to fill in spaces between taller plants and suppress weeds.
  2. Borders and Edges: Plant along borders or garden edges where it´s compact growth can define pathways and garden beds.
  3. Rock Gardens: Its low-growing foliage and vibrant flowers look lovely in rock gardens, for which it is well suited. Once established, it can thrive in well-drained soil and tolerate dry conditions.
  4. Containers: It can be grown in containers or hanging baskets where its trailing stems spill over the edges, creating a cascading effect.
  5. Wildlife Gardens: Its nectar-rich flowers attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, making it a beneficial addition to wildlife-friendly gardens.
  6. Mixed Plantings: It can be combined with many other perennials and shrubs with complementary colours and textures to create diverse and visually appealing plantings.

Biodiversity

The colourful flowers of Geranium sanguineum attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. These insects feed on the nectar and transfer the pollen between flowers helping the plant’s propagation. 

Its dense foliage can also provide a habitat and hiding place for many beneficial garden insects.

How to care for Geranium sanguineum

Cold exposure

Bloody Cransebill is frost-resistant and can tolerate cold weather down to -15ºC (5º F), but only if the soil is well drained. Cold, soggy soil can be fatal to it. 

While the plant is not yet established, you may want to add a thick layer of mulch around the plant’s base to protect the roots from cold temperatures. It´s preferable to use gravel mulch because organic mulch will stay humid and can cause the plant to rot.

As temperatures drop, especially after frost, the leaves will turn a beautiful reddish-bronze colour. However, if it gets too cold, the leaves may die back. Once the temperatures warm up in spring, new growth will quickly sprout.

Sun exposure

Bloody Cranesbill is very versatile with sunlight exposure; it can grow well in both full sun and shade.

Soil

Bloody Cranesbill needs moist and well-drained soil. It’s best to avoid planting it in damp locations, as it is not tolerant of soggy soil, which can increase the risk of root rot.

If your area tends to become waterlogged, you may need to keep the entire root ball above ground level and fill in with a raised mound of sandy soil, sloping gradually away from the plant’s base.

It can tolerate most types of soil PH, from mildly acidic to neutral to mildly alkaline.

Avoid fertilizing the soil to ensure that it remains robust and better equipped to handle extreme temperatures and drought.

Watering

Geranium Cranesbill is drought tolerant and can go for months without water once it is established (about 4 months of drought if the temperature is not too hot). 

During its first year after planting, it’s essential to water the young plant regularly. Depending on the soil and the temperatures, you may need to water it once a week, every two weeks or every three weeks.

When you water the plant, make sure to give it plenty of water, allowing the soil to get a good soak. This way, the water can sink deep into the soil keeping it moist for longer periods.

To preserve the soil´s moisture, mulch should be added around the plant’s root area. Preferably, the mulch should be gravel because organic mulch can lead to leaf rot.

Pruning

Pruning Geranium sanguineum helps maintain its shape, encourages new growth, and promotes better flowering. 

There are two times in the year to prune your plant:

Late spring/early summer 

After the first flush of flowers starts to fade, give it a light prune (deadheading) to remove the spent flowers and encourage new blooms during the summer. This deadheading is simply snipping off the faded flower where the flower stalk joins the main stem.

Autumn/Winter 

Geranium sanguineum has lovely reddish-bronze foliage as the cold weather comes. If you like this look, just delay the pruning while it still looks lovely. After that, you may want to give it a hard prune (cut back to about 5 to 7 cm ( 2- 3 inches)). This will allow bushier growth when it resprouts in Spring.

When to plant Geranium sanguineum

The best season to plant is typically in the spring or autumn, but it will depend on your climate. You should avoid planting during periods of extreme temperatures.

If you have mild weather where you live, it’s best to plant in the autumn to give it time to develop the roots during the cooler months before the arrival of the hot summer. In case of very cold winters, it’s better to wait until spring when the risk of frost has passed and the soil is warmer. That way, the plant can have a better chance to grow well and be healthy.

How to propagate Geranium sanguineum

The best way to propagate Geranium sanguineum is by stem cuttings or by division

Stem Cuttings: Take softwood cuttings in mid-spring to early summer.

  1. Select healthy non-flowering stems and cut just below a leaf node.
  2. Remove the lower leaves, leaving a few pairs of upper leaves intact. 
  3. Plant in a well-draining medium. Keep the medium consistently moist and provide indirect light. 
  4. Once the roots have developed, transplant the rooted cuttings to the garden in autumn if the little plant looks well developed. Otherwise, transplant into individual containers and grow in a cold frame during the first winter.

Division: Divide the plant when it is not flowering in spring or autumn.

  1. Dig up the mother plant clump.
  2. Shake off the excess soil to make it easier to divide.
  3. Divide the clump into good-sized sections. Depending on the size of the clump, use a sharp knife, a spade, or even a saw.
  4. Replant the divisions into the garden or into a pot overwintering in a cold frame and plant into the garden after the last frosts in early spring.

It is best to divide your plant every 3 to 5 years to keep the clumps neat and bushy.

An excellent online source for plant propagation techniques can be found in RHS propagation article.

Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Article from Kew

Article from Jardin Sec

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