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.

31 Replies to “Herb Robert (Geranium Robertianum)”

  1. Love those names! An unassuming little plant, and yet…Good that you have been able to focus on wild flowers that are less flashy than the cultivated ones. Even the weedy ones have an appeal.

    1. I have been photographing some of our most reviled weeds today. I did get too close to one of the seed pods and triggered a mini explosion, but they were not far off bursting anyway.

  2. Amen to your last: may life return to normal soon. It’s a hope to hold to.

    I’ve never heard of this Bob, let alone all his wonderful nicknames. What lovely deep reds he has! Finding such color when gardens are out of bounds is the trick, isn’t it, while we deal with life as it is now?

  3. It is a pretty flower, but easily overlooked and underestimated. Being related to geranium it can have similar companion planting effects. I’m fortunate to have a lot of it, though the summer hasn’t been kind, but I know it’ll come back again now that the cooler and wetter season is upon us.

  4. I love this little geranium it grows well in our garden seeding it’self in my pots and between the blocks. I do pull it up when I tidy the garden but I am never too harsh on removing it as I do like to see it. Our’s normally go red.

  5. It’s hard to eradicate from my garden, growing any place it can find, but I leave it alone in the wilder spots. A bit of a nuisance in the gravel as it also creeps. Can’t say the smell ever bothers me.

  6. Weeds come straight from nature… 🙂 I love the photo with the leaves against the mossy wall – that red leaf makes it very striking.

    1. Yes, they are unfiltered. 🙂

      It has struck me this year that many weeds seem to have friendship groups such as the moss, fern and herb in the picture you mentioned.

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