During our recent trip to Glacier/Yellowstone/Grand Teton national parks, the first plant Kristin and I recognized as being similar to our Wisconsin native plants was the Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum). All native geraniums got part of their name from the Greek word geranos, which refers to the long beaked bird known as the crane, because the seed pods of the geranium have long curved spikes. Often native geraniums are referred to by the common name cranesbill for the same reason.
Here in Wisconsin we have Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) which looks very similar to the Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum) of Montana and Wyoming except the blossoms and leaves of the sticky geranium are substantially thicker and quite hairy compared to the Wild Geranium. Also, the blooms of the Sticky Geranium have denser color than the lavender of the Wild Geranium.
The word “sticky” refers to the carnivorous enzymes apparently produced by the plant which grows further northwest. The Sticky Geranium traps small insects in the sticky substance that covers its stem and foliage. The sticky hairs on the Geranium viscosissimum appear to have the capability to digest and absorb algal protein.
The spiky-looking seed pods of the native geranium also have a unique dispersal characteristic. The elongated tail coils at maturity and then flings its pointed seed some distance, spiraling it into the ground. So if want to try to gather some of the seed, remove the pods as soon as they begin to turn brown and definitely before they split. Make sure to spread the pods out to dry, but cover them to keep the seeds from flying all over as the pods split open.
One of my favorite native plants because it makes a good transitional plant from woodland to prairie, the Wild Geranium prefers light shade to partial sunlight and can tolerate moist to slightly dry conditions. And, of course, because it does a good job of self-propagating in the most perfect places — less work for me!