The Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Wild Geranium (Spotted Geranium, Crane's-bill)


Scientific Name
Geranium maculatum L.


Plant Family
Geranium (Geraniaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Spring to Early Summer Flowering



Wild Geranium is an erect native perennial of the open woods, it reaches up to 2 feet in height.

Leaves: The large palmately-divided basal leaves have 5 to 7 lobes which are irregularly cleft, with wedge shaped bases and have long stalks on which are white hairs. There is also one pair of opposite and smaller leaf-like bracts on short stalks on the flowering stem, which grows directly from the root.

The inflorescence is a stalked loose cluster on an aerial stem held above the leaves.

Flowers: The flower color will vary from a rose-purple when growing in full shade to almost white (usually when exposed to much sun). Flowers are 5-part, 1 to 1 1/2 inches wide. The five petals have a deeper color veining. Pedicels (flower stalks) are hairy and each division of the cluster has small linear bracts. Flowers have ten stamens with light brown anthers and whitish filaments that rise around a green 5-carpel globose ovary with a single pistil; the 5 green pointed hairy sepals of the calyx are shorter than the petals.

Fruit: An erect beak-like seed capsule, covered with hair, develops at maturity. The capsule has five cells, each containing one seed and when mature, the outer upper section of the capsule curls backward to expose the seeds. The central stem then extends upward raising the 5 seeds, each then uncoiling its own spring-like stalk, with the remnants of the style held above them. The entire contraption resembles a wrought iron chandelier with five lamps. Each seed has long hairs attached and the coiled stalks have very short hairs. Seeds require 60 days of cold stratification for germination. Best to plant in the fall and let Winter do the work.


Habitat: Wild Geranium is found throughout the Woodland Garden, usually in large swaths. It grows from rhizomes. Mature rhizomes are 2 to 4 inches long with branching for new growth, often forming colonies. It prefers loamy rich soils with the dappled sunlight of woodland conditions, moist to mesic conditions. See Eloise Butler's notes below.

Names: The genus, Geranium, is from the classical Greek name Geranion which is derived from geranos, meaning 'a crane' and refers to the long beak on the sections of the seed capsule. The species name, maculatum is Latin for 'spotted'. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' is for Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.

Comparisons: Of the four other species of Geranium that occur in Minnesota, only one other is found in Hennepin County where the Garden is located - G. bicknellii, Bicknell's Geranium. That species is an annual or biennial and flowers are two per cluster. See notes at page bottom for a complete list of Minnesota species.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Wild Geranium flower Wild Geranium flower parts

Above: The deeper purple veining is quite attractive. Ten stamens surround the green female ovary and pistil.

Below: 1st photo - The calyx is small with 5 linear pointed lobes. Note the hairy surface of the sepals and the buds on the bottom of the photo. 2nd photo - One of the large palmate basal leaves. Each of the five segments can have sub-lobes, coarse teeth and the bases of each segment form a wedge shape.

Wild Geranium sepals Wild geranium leaf

Below: 1st photo - Stiff white hair is found on all stems and stalks including the flower stalks. 2nd photo - A pair of the upper stem bracts where the lobes are usually 3.

Wild Geranium flower stem Wild Geranium upper leaf

Seed Development

Below: 1st photo - The hairy green seed capsules of the Wild Geranium. 2nd photo - opening to show the seeds in mid July. Note the hairy outer wrapper. In both photos note the remains of the small bracts at the junction of the seed capsules.

Wild Geranium seedhead Wild Geranium Seedhead

Below: 1st photo - The unique seedhead at full maturity just before release of the seeds. 2nd photo - individual seed with fine surface hair.

seed capsule seed

Below: 2012 was an early season - these Wild Geraniums are blooming in early May and have attracted an Eastern Swallowtail.

Wild Geranium with swallowtail
Wild Geranium

Below: The root system with its long thin rhizomes.



Notes: Wild Geranium is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on May 25, 1907. Susan Wilkins added plants in 2009, '11, '12 and '13. It is native to the woods of Minnesota, particularly the counties of the east half and central parts of the state. In North America it is found from the mid-continent eastward, except Florida.

The University of Minnesota Herbarium reports four species of Geranium are found in Minnesota: G. bicknellii, Bicknell's Geranium; G. carolinianum, Carolina Geranium; G. maculatum, Wild Geranium; and G. sibiricum, Siberian Geranium. The last is an introduction and not common and the DNR does not provide any county data on it. Four other species have been reported for Minnesota but all are introductions from the Old World with either single populations or no reported collections at all. These are G. pratense, Meadow Geranium; G. pusillum, Small Geranium; G. robertianum, Robert's Geranium; and G. sanguineum, Bloody Geranium.

Eloise Butler wrote: "Few are unable to name the Wild Geranium when they observe the form of the leaf, the flower cluster, and the flower. This geranium enlivens large expanses of woodlands with its purplish flowers. The significance of another name - cranesbill - is seen when the blossom goes to seed, forming a birdlike beak, from the base of which uncurl fine little seed-like fruits." Published June 4, 1911, Sunday Minneapolis Tribune

Medicinal uses: The root of the plant contain tannic and gallic acid and was used in dried and powdered form as an astringent and styptic. When dried the white internal parts of the root turn purple, have a strong astringent taste without odor. Densmore (Ref. 5) in her study of the Minnesota Chippewa reports usage of the dried and powdered root for treating mouth sores, especially effective for children. Hutchins (Ref. #12) reports many other uses.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.