Monsonia, Pelargonium (2007)

By Pam Schnebelen (January 2007)

Some pelargoniums are shrubby, but the species that have succulent stems or fat bases are more interesting to most hobbyists. A few of these come from summer-rainfall areas in southern Africa, but most come from areas with winter rainfall in South Africa and Namibia.

We treat pelargoniums as “winter growers” here in the Midwest. Known for their attractive, scented flowers, these plants are important sources of oils used the perfume industry.

The succulent pelargoniums have been fairly easy and undemanding for me, especially when compared to that other interesting group of winter growers, Othonna. The winter-rainfall plants are leafless in summer, when they like it hot with occasional light watering. Leaves flush out around October, when I begin watering. During the winter, I water every seven to 10 days, tapering off in spring as the leaves fade away.

Some interesting pelargoniums: Pelargonium bowkeri has wonderful feathery leaves and is a summer grower. Pelargonium crassicaule has a low, thick base. P. gibbosum has neat knobby stems.

A great source of info on these plants is maintained by Matija Strlic at

PhotoMonsonia (Sarcocaulon)
Plants of the genus Sarcocaulon are now in the genus Monsonia, section Sarcocaulon. The sarcocaulons differ from other monsonias by having spines. Used as candles and firewood by the native peoples of southwestern Africa, the stems of these plants have a flammable waxy coating that protects them from the intense droughts that are common in those areas.

Interesting plants include Monsonia vanderietiae, from the Eastern Cape in a summer-rainfall area, and Monsonia patersonii, from the Namib desert, where it gets tons of light and little moisture. These plants make excellent bonsais.

Plants in this genus have proven difficult for me. I am looking forward to hearing how others of you grow them! Bring your plants to the meeting on January 14 and share your experiences with the rest of us. We learn the most from each other.

Plant Sources
Arid Lands (Large selection of pelargoniums for sale) –
Rare Succulents (Both pelargoniums and sarcocaulons) –

Seed Sources
Silverhill Seeds –
Penrock Seeds & Plants –
B & T World Seeds –