Geranium Phaeum

Several unique characteristics, including their preference for shade and their rich color, set this geranium apart.

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Dark purple geranium flowers (hardy English Geranium Phaeum 'Mourning Widow')

Photo by: mtreasure

mtreasure

Dark purple geranium flowers (hardy English Geranium Phaeum 'Mourning Widow')

Botanical Name: Dusky crane’s bill, mourning widow, black widow (Geranium phaeum)

You may know geranium phaeum by one of its common names, dusky crane’s bill, mourning widow or black widow. It’s a hardy, herbaceous geranium that thrives in woodland areas, home gardens and containers. 

Several characteristics separate it from traditional wild geraniums and the pelargonium geraniums you most commonly see in local nursery and garden centers. For starters, it is prized as much for it’s beautiful foliage as it is for its blooms. Depending on the variety, the leaves can have an exquisite purplish-black motif that spreads across a backdrop of traditional green or they may have a vibrant green foliage. The leaves are also much larger than the blooms themselves, which could account for part of the reason they stand out. 

Secondly, they differ from other geraniums due to the environment they favor. Rather than full sun or partial shade, geranium phaeums prefer a very shady area. They cannot withstand heat or even hot humidity, meaning they shouldn’t be planted in zones higher than 8 or the deep Southern states of the U.S. This preference could be due to the fact that they are native to the meadows and woodlands of Eurasia. 

Its five-petal blooms may be small—measuring about an inch in diameter—but they pack a punch in the way of color. You’ll find them in shades of maroon, burgundy, and deep purple. In fact, two of its nicknames, “mourning widow” and “black widow,” come from the dark flower color, which can even appear black at times. They bloom in late spring to summer, typically May to August in most locations. If you plant geranium phaeum in your garden, expect to expect several re-blooming periods throughout the season at various times. 

Geranium phaeums will grow to be anywhere from 18 – 30 inches in height, and will have a spread of up to 18 inches. After the blooming period, trim the foliage to reshape the plant as you desire. You will also want to deadhead throughout the season to keep the plant from self-seeding. 

‘Samobor’ is, perhaps, the most well-known of the geranium phaeum varieties. Its eggplant-hued blooms are set against leaves that have the purplish-black marking on a rich green background. ‘Lily Lovell’ features lighter purple flowers than the ‘Samobor,’ which are set against a backdrop of pure green foliage. ‘Raven’ is another variety that features dark, purplish-black flowers that shoot above the foliage. It is said to have been discovered as a seedling from a ‘Lily Lovell’ at Rainforest Gardens in Canada.

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