Herb Robert (Geranium Robertianum)

Geranium robertianum has small pink flowers with white stripes

Herb Robert is one of many common names for a wild geranium (Geranium robertianum) widely found across Britain. It’s easy to overlook the spidery plant and its small, simple flowers.

Herb Robert sprawls over a stone
The growth is often sprawling

Some plants remain compact and prostrate while others use their stems to tumble and sprawl. You’ll often find them taking advantage of a crack of soil at the foot of a wall, or clinging on part way up one.

Geranium robertianum with moss on limestone paving
Herb Robert growing from a crack in limestone paving

I was charmed a few years ago to discover one plant growing with moss on a largely bare expanse of limestone paving above Malham Cove when my athletic sister led my sweetheart and me on a hike.

In spring and summer, the foliage is fresh green and slightly hairy. Under stress – too much sunlight or too little water – one or more leaves redden.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Some of its folk names reference the scent (Stinky Bob, fox geranium), others are more perplexing (death-come-quickly, squinter-pip).

Herb Robert flower and hairy seeds

Even its most dedicated advocate ought to confess that it is weedy in character. The plants are loved by insects that readily pollinate them. Hairy red seed pods dry, then eject five seeds in every direction.

Luckily for those set on eradication, the plant is but lightly attached to the earth. Each seed creates one main stem, then branches a centimetre or so above the soil to form a spindly rosette. This curious habit of growing almost in the air means the plant offers little resistance to anyone who weeds it (other than anointing them in its weird scent, which has been described as a mix of sour milk, old cider, vomit and dead mouse).

Herb Robert with ferns on a mossy wall
Herb Robert with ferns on a mossy wall

I’ve spent far more time in the company of weeds and wildflowers this year than I have admiring garden plants. Though I’d not have chosen it, weeds seem to bring me closer to nature than cultivated plants that carry the imprint of some human hand. No one has altered, tended, fed or watered these wild geraniums.

Red herb Robert foliage with ivy and fallen leaves
The leaves turn red in autumn or under stress

They have been very welcome companions on my walks and I hope I’ll view them with the same pleasure once life is more normal – may that be soon for all of us!

Shared as part of Cee’s Flower of the Day.

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