Pelargonium inquinans - Species Geranium
Scientific Name: Pelargonium inquinans
Common Name: Species Geranium
This species is believed to have been grown by Thomas Jefferson in the President's House.1
Upon Jefferson's retirement in 1809, Margaret Bayard Smith, a Washington socialite, asked for a geranium Jefferson was growing and the departing president 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 organisation with ours seems to indicate, it cannot but be proudly sensible of her [Mrs. Smith's] fostering attentions."2
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.3 Geraniums were popular enough in America by 1800 to be featured by Rembrandt Peale in his famous 1801 portrait of his brother Rubens.
The geranium is a tender perennial, grown as a houseplant, with velvety green foliage studded with clusters of bright scarlet flowers throughout the year.
- Peggy Cornett, n.d.
Primary Source References
Late 1808-Early 1809. (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 inexpressibly precious it will be to my heart. It shall be attended with the assiduity of affection & watered, with tears of regret; & each day as I attend it ...."5
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 ...."6
- Adams, Denise Wiles. Restoring American Gardens: An Encyclopedia of Heirloom Ornamental Plants, 1640-1940. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc., 2004.
- Boyd, Julian P. A Geranium for Lyman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951. A farewell keepsake by Julian Boyd, editor of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, in honor of colleague Lyman Butterfield, recalling Jefferson's gift of a geranium to Margaret Bayard Smith.
- Leighton, Ann. American Gardens in the Eighteenth Century. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986.
- McMahon, Bernard. The American Gardener's Calendar, 1806. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1997. See pp. 83, 160, 355, 419, and 444.
- National Gallery of Art. Peale, Rembrandt. Rubens Peale with a Geranium, 1801.
- Stuart, David and James Sutherland. Plants from the Past: Old Flowers for New Gardens. London: Penguin Books, 1989.
- Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.
- 1. 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.
- 2. Jefferson to Smith, March 6, 1809, in PTJ:RS, 1:29. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 3. Alice M. Coats, Flowers and Their Histories (London: Black, 1968), 200.
- 4. Betts, Garden Book, 354. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 5. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 6. In an account of Jefferson's residence at the President's House. Smith, First Forty Years, 385.
- 7. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society; Betts, Garden Book, 406. Transcription available at Founders Online.