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Dusky Cranesbill

Geranium phaeum

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Geraniaceae (Cranesbill)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Gardens, grassland, hedgerows, meadows, parks, riverbanks, roadsides, rocky places, towns, woodland.

Purple, 5 petals
The flowers of Dusky Cranesbill exhibit a subtle yet enchanting beauty. Each blossom features a rich, dusky hue, ranging from deep purples to blues and pinks. The petals are delicately veined, creating an intricate pattern that adds to the flower's allure. Blooming from late spring to early summer, these flowers grace the plant's gracefully arching stems. The overall effect is one of understated elegance, making Dusky Cranesbill a charming presence in woodlands, meadows, and gardens across the United Kingdom.
The fruit of Dusky Cranesbill is a distinctive seed capsule that develops after the flowers have bloomed. This capsule has a unique beak-like shape, reminiscent of a crane's bill, which gives the plant its name. As the seeds mature, the capsule turns brown, adding a touch of rustic charm to the plant. Once fully developed, the seed capsule splits open, releasing the seeds within. The process contributes to the plant's reproductive cycle, allowing it to spread and thrive in its natural habitats, including woodlands and meadows across the United Kingdom.
The leaves of Dusky Cranesbill are characterized by their deeply dissected and lobed structure. These dark green leaves, often tinged with a hint of purple, create an intricate and textured backdrop to the plant's blooms. The foliage forms a basal rosette, radiating from the plant's base and contributing to its overall lush appearance. The serrated edges of the leaves add to the plant's ornamental appeal. Dusky Cranesbill's foliage is not only aesthetically pleasing but also plays a vital role in photosynthesis, supporting the plant's growth and flowering in woodlands, meadows, and gardens throughout the United Kingdom.
Dusky Cranesbill is not widely known for a strong or distinctive aroma. The plant's primary appeal lies in its visual characteristics, such as the dusky-hued flowers and intricately lobed leaves. While some geranium species have aromatic foliage, Dusky Cranesbill is not typically cultivated for its fragrance. Gardeners and observers may appreciate its visual charm rather than any notable scent when enjoying this plant in woodlands, meadows, or gardens across the United Kingdom.
Other Names:
Black Widow, Dusky-flowered Cranesbill, Mournful Cranesbill, Mourning Widow.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Geranium phaeum, also known as mournful cranesbill or dusky cranesbill, is a perennial herb in the family Geraniaceae. It is native to Europe and Asia, and is found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, meadows, and grasslands. Mournful cranesbill has dark purple or maroon flowers that bloom in the summer, and its leaves are palmately lobed and hairy. The plant gets its common name from the distinctive shape of its seed capsule, which resembles the bill of a crane. Mournful cranesbill is often grown as an ornamental plant, and it is also used in traditional medicine.


Dusky Cranesbill (Geranium phaeum) is a species of perennial flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. It is a part of the Geranium family and is widely known for its attractive, delicate flowers and its ability to adapt to various growing conditions.

The Dusky Cranesbill plant grows to a height of about 30 to 60 cm and has a spreading habit. Its leaves are deeply lobed and are dark green in color. The leaves of this plant are covered in fine hairs, which give the plant a soft, fuzzy appearance.

The flowers of the Dusky Cranesbill are some of its most striking features. The flowers are produced in clusters and have five petals that are typically a shade of purple, but can also be pink, white, or even blue. The flowers bloom from late spring to early summer and are a popular choice for gardeners who are looking to add color and interest to their outdoor spaces.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Dusky Cranesbill is its versatility. This plant is capable of growing in a variety of soil types, including heavy clay and sandy soils. It can also tolerate a range of light conditions, from full sun to partial shade.

In terms of care, the Dusky Cranesbill is relatively low-maintenance. This plant is drought-tolerant and can survive without regular watering, making it a great choice for gardeners who want a beautiful and easy-to-care-for garden. However, for best results, it is recommended that the soil be kept moist but not waterlogged.

The Dusky Cranesbill is also known for its medicinal properties. In traditional medicine, the plant has been used to treat a range of conditions, including skin irritations, respiratory problems, and digestive issues.

In addition to its ornamental and medicinal uses, the Dusky Cranesbill is also a great choice for attracting wildlife to your garden. The flowers of this plant are a popular source of nectar for pollinators such as bees and butterflies, providing them with an important source of food.

This plant is also an important source of food for other wildlife, including birds and small mammals. The seeds of the Dusky Cranesbill are a food source for birds such as finches, and the leaves and stems can be eaten by small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels.

One of the best things about the Dusky Cranesbill is its ability to naturalize and spread. This plant will self-seed and can easily spread to form large colonies in your garden. However, it is also important to be mindful of its spreading habit and to control its growth if necessary.

The Dusky Cranesbill is also an excellent choice for use in rock gardens, wildflower meadows, and other naturalistic gardens. Its delicate flowers and attractive foliage make it a great choice for planting in groups or along the edges of garden beds.

Another great feature of the Dusky Cranesbill is its hardiness. This plant is highly resilient and can survive in a range of weather conditions, including cold temperatures and frost. This makes it an excellent choice for gardeners in regions with cooler climates.

The Dusky Cranesbill can also be grown in containers, making it a great choice for those with limited garden space. When grown in containers, it is important to ensure that the soil is well-draining to prevent waterlogging, which can cause root rot.

In terms of maintenance, the Dusky Cranesbill is easy to care for and does not require regular pruning or deadheading. However, if you wish to keep the plant tidy, you can cut back the stems after the flowering period has ended. This will also encourage new growth and a second flush of flowers later in the season.

In terms of pests and diseases, the Dusky Cranesbill is generally trouble-free. However, it is susceptible to some common garden pests, such as aphids, and can also be affected by fungal diseases such as powdery mildew. Regular monitoring and prompt treatment can help prevent these issues.

The Dusky Cranesbill is also an excellent choice for gardeners who are interested in sustainable gardening practices. This plant is native to Europe and Asia and is well-suited to growing in these regions, making it a great choice for those who want to support local ecosystems and reduce their environmental footprint.

In addition to its ornamental and medicinal uses, the Dusky Cranesbill is also a great choice for adding texture and interest to your garden. The leaves of this plant are deeply lobed and have a velvety texture that makes them a great choice for adding texture to garden beds and borders.

Another great feature of the Dusky Cranesbill is its versatility in design. This plant can be used in a variety of different garden styles, including cottage gardens, meadows, and woodland gardens. Whether you prefer a naturalistic, informal look or a more structured, formal style, the Dusky Cranesbill is a great choice.

This plant can also be combined with other perennials to create a beautiful and cohesive garden design. For example, it can be planted alongside other native plants such as foxgloves and primroses, or with other shade-tolerant perennials such as hostas and ferns.

In terms of garden design, the Dusky Cranesbill is also a great choice for adding vertical interest. Its tall stems and delicate flowers make it an excellent choice for planting at the back of garden beds, where it can create a backdrop for lower-growing plants.

Finally, the Dusky Cranesbill is also an excellent choice for gardeners who are looking for low-maintenance garden plants. This plant is highly adaptable and can survive in a range of growing conditions, making it a great choice for those who want a beautiful garden without the need for regular upkeep.

In conclusion, the Dusky Cranesbill is a versatile and attractive flowering plant that can bring a range of benefits to your garden. With its delicate flowers, adaptability, and low-maintenance requirements, this plant is a great choice for gardeners of all levels of experience. So why not consider adding this delightful plant to your garden today?

25 Dusky Cranesbill Facts

  1. Scientific Marvel: The Dusky Cranesbill belongs to the Geraniaceae family, known for its diverse and fascinating plant species.

  2. Native Beauty: This wildflower is native to various regions, including Europe, Asia, and North America.

  3. Botanical Name: Its scientific name is Geranium phaeum, derived from the Greek word "geranos," meaning crane, reflecting the shape of its seed.

  4. Mysterious Moniker: The common name "Dusky Cranesbill" alludes to the flower's dark, dusky appearance and its long, beak-like seed capsule.

  5. Shady Character: Dusky Cranesbill thrives in partial to full shade, making it an excellent choice for woodland gardens.

  6. Unique Foliage: The plant boasts deeply dissected, dark green foliage, providing an attractive backdrop to its blooms.

  7. Blossoming Season: Dusky Cranesbill typically flowers in late spring to early summer, adding a touch of elegance to the landscape.

  8. Floral Diversity: The flowers come in various shades, including deep purples, blues, and pinks, attracting a range of pollinators.

  9. Long-Blooming Charm: One of its standout features is its prolonged blooming period, providing gardeners with an extended display of color.

  10. Adaptable Survivor: Dusky Cranesbill is known for its adaptability, thriving in different soil types and moisture conditions.

  11. Hardy Perennial: As a hardy perennial, it returns year after year, becoming a reliable and enduring presence in gardens.

  12. Pollinator Paradise: The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, contributing to the overall biodiversity of the garden.

  13. Natural Ground Cover: With its spreading habit, Dusky Cranesbill can serve as an effective ground cover, suppressing weeds and creating a lush carpet.

  14. Historical Uses: Traditional herbal medicine recognized the geranium genus for its astringent properties, used for various medicinal purposes.

  15. Culinary Intrigue: Some varieties of geraniums, though not specifically Dusky Cranesbill, are used in culinary applications, infusing flavors into desserts and beverages.

  16. Low Maintenance Delight: This wildflower is relatively low maintenance, making it a favorite among gardeners seeking both beauty and ease.

  17. Folklore Connection: In folklore, geraniums were believed to have protective qualities, often planted around homes to ward off evil spirits.

  18. Global Garden Presence: Due to its adaptability, Dusky Cranesbill has found its way into gardens around the world, contributing to the global appreciation of this beautiful species.

  19. Eco-Friendly Companion: Dusky Cranesbill is often used as a companion plant, benefiting neighboring plants by repelling certain pests.

  20. Symbolic Significance: The geranium flower, including the Dusky Cranesbill, is often associated with positive emotions, friendship, and happiness.

  21. Hybrid Varieties: Horticulturists have developed hybrid varieties of Dusky Cranesbill, showcasing a broader range of colors and forms.

  22. Drought Tolerance: Once established, this resilient plant exhibits good drought tolerance, making it suitable for gardens with sporadic watering.

  23. Winter Interest: The seedheads of Dusky Cranesbill persist through the winter, providing visual interest and texture to the garden landscape.

  24. Easy Propagation: Gardeners can easily propagate Dusky Cranesbill through division, allowing them to share the beauty of this plant with others.

  25. Artistic Inspiration: The unique form and coloration of Dusky Cranesbill make it a favorite subject for artists and photographers, capturing its allure in various forms of visual art.


Dusky Cranesbill filmed at Carnforth in Lancashire on the 13th May 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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