Geranium potentilloides

Soft Cranesbill, Cinquefoil geranium

Family: Geraniaceae

A soft, herbaceous, spreading-prostrate perennial, that can grow up to 0.5 m high; with a thickened taproot; can root at nodes forming extensive clumps.

It has a patchy but widespread natural geographic distribution in NSW, found mostly on the coast-tablelands divide, as well as wider tablelands and coast, virtually from border to border, as far west as Orange, Albury, Gundagai and Tingha. There appears to be a few records in Queensland near Killarney and possibly Armadilla Creek. It occurs through most of Victoria with the general exception of the north-west area. It is very common right through Tasmania as well as New Zealand. It occurs in South Australia around Mt Gambier, Adelaide and the Yorke Peninsula and Kangaroo Island as well as south-east of Port Augusta and Port Lincoln. It is not recognised as occurring in Western Australia by the Western Australian Herbarium.

It is commonly found in dry sclerophyll woodland and open grasslands / shrublands, on a range of soils types. 

Geranium spp. have simple leaves which can be arranged oppositely or alternately. In this species, there are basal leaves which are larger than stem leaves but not persistent; stem leaves are opposite, palmatisect in shape with a mostly circular to reniform (kidney-shaped – sideways in this case) lamina, to 4 cm long and 5 cm wide, with 5 to 7 lobes; with each lobe secondarily divided into 3 to 5 lobes or teeth and the apices; dark green to grey-green in colour (due to hairs), often paler and with purple tones on the undersides; on a petiole to 3.5 cm long.

Geranium spp. have 5-merous flowers with 5 sepals and petals and with 10 stamens surrounding 1 carpel (bisexual); arranged in terminal umbels / cymose umbels or otherwise solitary or in pairs. In this species, flowers are solitary, on a pedicel to 4 cm long, flowers to 10 mm wide; pink with transluscent veins and anthers yellow; mainly produced autumn to spring.

Geranium produce a fruit termed a mericarp (small woody nutlet) which splits open to expose the seeds. In this species, the mericarps are linear, to 15 mm long, with stiff hairs, releasing black seeds containing small and large pits.

In the garden

This species is known to be cultivated and will act similarly to other species in the garden – forming a nice groundcover that can act as a weed suppressor and form cover for small reptiles. 

In a garden situation, prefers damp, shady sites with well drained moist soil.

Can take root from the leaf nodes to form extensive clumps.

It can always be hand-weeded if it needs to be kept in check. Useful for shady damp areas. 

Once it is established, it might readily colonise other areas – so consider this when planting. 


By root division or cuttings

Other information

Geranium spp. likely regenerate after fire from the root zones (taproot) as well as seed bank. 

Geranium is a genus of around 420 species of annual, biennial, and perennial herbaceous plants, commonly known as geraniums or cranesbills, found in many parts of the world from the Mediterranean to tropical mountains. Australia has 16 species (9 species endemic, 4 species naturalized) growing in all States. NSW currently has 12 native species and 3 exotic-naturalised.

First Nations people roasted the large, fleshy, starchy and multi-branched tap root as a food and they are available summer and autumn.

There are two varieties of Geranium potentilloides currently recognised in NSW identified by the seeds:

  • var potentilloides – seeds brown with small pits; bracteoles about halfway along flower stalk (peduncle plus pedicel).
  • var abditum – seeds black with large pits; bracteoles usually towards base of flower stalk

Both varieties can be found over most of the geographic range. 

Geranium from Ancient Greek geranos/yeranos (γέρανος) meaning ‘crane’ (bird). The English name ‘cranesbill’ stems from the resemblance of the fruit in some species to a crane’s head and bill. The ovary forms the head and the prolonged stigma creates the appearance of a beak.

potentilloides Latin – named for the genus Potentilla – a group of exotic plants known as Cinquefoils in the genus Rosaceae. This species has similarly-appearing leaves. 

This species is not considered to be at risk of extinction in the wild. 

NSW Flora Online (PlantNET) – Geranium potentilloides profile page: https://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Geranium~potentilloides

Isaacs, Jennifer. Bush FoodAboriginal Food and Herbal Medicine. 1987 Publisher Weldons Pty Ltd – page 224 for Geranium potentilloides.

Yarra Ranges Council – Local Plant Directory – Geranium potentilloides var. potentilloides profile page https://www.yarraranges.vic.gov.au/PlantDirectory/Herbs-Groundcovers/Geranium-potentilloides-var.-potentilloides 

By Dan Clarke and Jeff Howes.