Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum)

Also known as: bloodwort, cuckoo's eye, death-come-quickly, stinking Robert, stinky Bob
KingdomPlantae
PhylumAnthophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderGeraniales
FamilyGeraniaceae
GenusGeranium (1)
SizePlant height: 10-50 cm (2)

Not threatened (3).

Herb-Robert is a ubiquitous sprawling plant well-known for its strong disagreeable mousy smell and its cheerful bright pink flowers (4).This odour is referred to by the local names stinking Robert and stinky Bob (4). In folklore it is the plant belonging to the mischievous house goblin Robin Goodfellow (the name Robin is a diminutive of Robert) (5). This leafy plant is generally hairy, with bright green finely divided leaves and reddish-tinged stems (2). It has many varied local names including bloodwort, which reflects the use of the plant in folk medicine to staunch blood flow (5). Although the petals are usually bright pink, white forms arise in some areas (2).

Common throughout Britain up to altitudes of 700m. It also occurs in Europe with the exception of the far north, in temperate parts of Asia reaching Japan and the Himalayas, as well as North Africa, where it is a rare species found in the mountains (2). It has been introduced widely outside of this native range, and has become naturalised in North and South America (2) (3).

This plant is able to tolerate shade, and often occurs close to human habitation (5) (3). Typical habitats favoured by this species include woodlands, hedgerows, coastal shingle and shaded banks. It also thrives in artificial sites that are subject to disturbance (3).

Herb-Robert occurs as either an annual or biennial herb. The flowers, which are present from June to October are pollinated by a range of insects (6) (2). The flowers are able to self-fertilise if they are not pollinated (2).

This familiar plant has been put to various uses through the centuries. The leaves have been rubbed onto the skin in order to repel biting insects (although the strong scent is highly disagreeable and likely to repel more than insects!). The plant has been used to obtain a brown dye, and in folk medicine it has been used as an anti-rheumatic, a diuretic and and to treat jaundice and stop bleeding. Recent research has shown that the plant may lower blood sugar levels, and so it has potential as a treatment for diabetes (6).

This plant is not threatened.

Conservation action is not required for this species at present.

For more on British native plants and for details of how to get involved in plant conservation visit the website of Plantlife, the wild plant charity:
www.plantlife.org.uk

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January 2004): http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G., and Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles- 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  5. Grigson, G. (1996) The EnglishmanÂ’s Flora. Helicon Publishing Ltd, Oxford.
  6. Plants for a Future (January 2004): http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Geranium+robertianum