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Pelargonium inquinans - Species Geranium

Species Geranium

Common Name: Species Geranium[1]

Scientific Name: Pelargonium inquinans

This species is believed to have been grown by Jefferson in the President's House.[2] Upon his retirement in 1809, Margaret Bayard Smith, a Washington socialite, asked for a geranium he was growing and Jefferson replied: "It is in very bad condition, having been neglected latterly, as not intended to be removed ... if plants have sensibility, as the analogy of their organization with ours seems to indicate, it cannot but be proudly sensible of her fostering attentions."[3] Geraniums were popular enough in America by 1800 to be featured by Rembrandt Peale in his famous 1801 portrait of his brother Rubens.

Imported from South Africa into Britain by the early 1700s, this species geranium was an exciting novelty that became one of the parents of our modern bedding geraniums.[4]

The Geranium is a tender perennial, grown as houseplant with velvety green foliage studded with clusters of bright scarlet flowers throughout the year.

Primary Source References[5]

1807 November 24. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I have stuck several sprigs of geranium in a pot which contained a plant supposed to be orange, but not known to be so..."[6]

Late 1808. (Margaret Bayard Smith to Jefferson). "I have seen in your cabinet a Geranium, which I understood you cultivated with your own hands. If you do not take it home with you, I entreat you to leave it with me. I cannot tell you how inexpressively precious it will be to my heart. It shall be attended with the assiduity of affection and watered with tears of regret each day as I attend it..."[7]

1809. (Margaret Bayard Smith). "...In the window recesses were stands for the flowers and plants which it was his delight to attend and among his roses and geraniums was suspended the cage of his favorite mocking-bird, which he cherished with peculiar fondness..."[8]

1809 February 6. (Jefferson to Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge). Plants in pot & box: "Geranium-I think there was a plant of this but am not certain."[9]


  1. This section is based on a Center for Historic Plants Information Sheet.
  2. Edwin M. Betts, Hazlehurst Bolton Perkins, and Peter J. Hatch, Thomas Jefferson's Flower Garden at Monticello, 3rd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986), 72-73.
  3. 'PTJ:RS, 1:29.
  4. Alice M. Coates, Flowers and their Histories (London: Black, 1968), 200.
  5. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  6. Betts, Garden Book, 354.
  7. Massachusetts Historical Society
  8. In an account of Jefferson's residence at the President's House. Smith, First Forty Years, 385.
  9. Massachusetts Historical Society and Betts, Garden Book, 406.

Further Sources


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