The Geranium Family - GERANIACEAE - dates back many centuries.
One of its first recorded references was as Geranion by the Greek physician and collector of plants, Dioscorides- whose De Materia Medica, published circa 50AD, was long considered authoritative on botany as well as medicine.
In the 17th century, apothecary Nicolas Culpepper- who wrote a popular herbal, said that 'Herb Robert', or Geranium robertianum, chronicled since the 13th century, recommended it for use "against the stone; to heal green wounds and old ulcers".
Geranium sanguineum (pictured) is native to Europe, the Caucasus and northern Turkey. A fine cottage garden plant for rockeries and borders in full sun or part shade.
Geranium macrorrhizum, found in Southern Europe in 1576, is still grown in 21st century gardens as a cool climate border plant with spring and summer flowers and autumn colour.
These early European discoveries were called "geraniums" on the basis of two major characteristics- A seed pod, which resembled the beak of a crane (Geranos in Greek); and a flower that had five equal petals.
In time, botanists and collectors in other parts of world found what they thought to be similar plants of note. However, while many had flowers and foliage of a somewhat different form, they still had the same distinctive seed pod that looked like the beak of a bird.
On this basis alone they too were considered to be "geraniums" and were so named.
In 1633 Thomas Johnson, in a revision of 'Gerard's Herbal' of 1597 noted the introduction of Geranium indicum noctu odoratum. It had arrived in Paris from The Cape in 1631 and was later renamed Pelargonium triste.
Although it had the typical "geranium" family seed pod, it was given the common name of Storksbill. The way it dispersed its seed was different and the flowers did not have the five equal petals of the European plants - rather two larger upper petals and three smaller lower ones.
This it seems was the beginning of what was to be the confusion of name between two branches of same family.
To complicate things even further.. three other similar genera of plants had also been discovered growing in Europe and South Africa - Erodiums, Monsonia and Sarcocaulon.
Each carried similar elongated fruits (Erodiums were given the common name of Herons Bill). Monsonias and Sarcocaulons, as succulent or desert plants, are South African natives often grown on as collectors items.
The Swedish botanist Linneaus, who devised a specific system of naming plants in his Species Plantarium of 1753, classifed all five genera as members of the FAMILY GERANIACEAE.