A beneficial beauty
The Wild Geranium, Geranium maculatum, is a stunning plant in both beauty and its ability to contribute to ecology. Blooms last about a month and usually occur between April and June in central Illinois. Many different species of pollinator, including butterflies, skippers, bees, and even flies visit this plant. Geraniums even have a specialist bee, Adrena distans, which only collects pollen from plants in the geranium family. Many species of insect feed on the foliage, including a few different caterpillars (including one hilariously named "Omnivorous LeafRoller Moth"). Song birds and small rodents will feed upon the seeds, and the foliage may occasionally be grazed by deer and other herbivores.*
Wild geraniums are fabulous in home gardens. They stay fairly short, around 2 feet tall, and they have a very attractive leaf shape. They do spread vigorously, so plant them with that in mind. Once allowed to spread and form a "drift" (a large, organically shaped grouping of the same species of plant), they are quite spectacular all in full bloom together.
Geraniums are quite tough, and though they are usually found in woodlands in the wild, they can handle a range of sun and soil conditions. The foliage of wild geraniums can get a bit ragged and even disappear once hot weather arrives if they are planted in full sun, though, so keep that in mind when choosing garden companions for them. Later appearing plants, like warm season grass Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), can help disguise the fading foliage of geraniums when they are planted nearby.
*For more specific information on Wild Geranium's relationship to ecology, please visit Illinois Wildflowers.
Photographs by Kayla Myers from Middle Fork River Forest Preserve Campground in Penfield, Illinois