Occurrence

Cut-leaved Crane’s-bill (Geranium dissectum) and Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill (Geranium molle) are the two crane’s-bill species most commonly found as weeds of arable crops, although round-leaved crane’s-bill (Geranium rotundifolium) and small-flowered crane`s-bill (Geranium pusillum) may also be found as weeds.  Many other Geranium species also occur in the UK, but rarely as arable weeds.  Both cut-leaved and dove’s-foot crane’s-bill occur in a variety of habitats throughout most parts of the UK but cut-leaved crane’s-bill is the species more commonly encountered and has become increasingly common as an arable weed during the past 30 years.  Cut-leaved crane’s-bill was the 8th commonest weed in a 2007/08 survey of arable fields on 28 farms in Southern England and was particularly frequent in winter broad-leaved crops, especially oilseed rape.  This probably reflected the weakness of the herbicide programmes in that crop.  [Reference: Lutman et al., (2009).  Abundance of weeds in arable fields in southern England in 2007/08. Aspects of Applied Biology 91, Crop Protection in Southern Britain, 163 – 168.]

Identification

Cut-leaved crane’s-bill is a short/medium, semi-upright or sprawling hairy annual up to 60 cm tall with pink-purple flowers.  The leaves are deeply dissected almost to the base and the fruits are hairy or downy.  Dove’s-foot crane’s-bill is similar, but tends to be shorter, up to 40 cm tall, and the leaves are more rounded and less deeply dissected, usually only to about half-way to the base, and the fruits are hairless.  The cotyledons (seed leaves) of both species are broader than long, slightly asymmetrical, long-stalked and noticeably hairy.  The two species are hard to tell apart at the seedling stage but the second true leaf of cut-leaved crane’s-bill has additional, small secondary lobes which are absent in dove’s-foot crane’s-bill.

Damage

Cranesbills are moderately competitive species, with similar competitive abilities to groundsel, red dead-nettle and speedwells. It has been estimated that, on average, a population of 62.5 plants2 can cause a 5% yield loss in wheat crops.  They may be more competitive in winter oil-seed rape.  See other information sheet: How competitive are different weed species. In the past, cranesbill seeds were often serious contaminants of seed crops, especially clover, but improved seed cleaning has greatly reduced this risk.

Agro-ecology

As annual broad-leaved weeds, crane’s-bills are propagated solely by seeds.  Both species flower from April to September with seeds being shed from June.  The numbers of seeds produced per plant in a competitive crop situation is normally less than 500 but, in the absence of strong crop competition, many more (>2500 per plant) may be produced.  Some seeds can germinate soon after shedding and consequently seedling emergence tends to be highest in August/September.  This may help explain why crane’s-bills are often associated with early-sown winter oil-seed rape crops.  However, some seeds shower greater dormancy, resulting in a more protracted germination period which tends to peak again in late spring

Seedlings can only emerge from seeds within the surface 5 cm of soil.  Persistence of cut-leaved crane’s bill seed in the soil is generally considered to be relatively low (<5 years) compared with many other broad-leaved species.  Seeds of dove’s-foot crane’s-bill are more persistent (> 5 years).

Management information

See other information sheet (Broad-leaved weeds: occurrence, agro-ecology and management) for the best approaches to integrated weed management of crane’s-bills.  The limitations of these mean that control is largely dependent on herbicides on most farms, so maintaining the availability and efficacy of a wide range of herbicides is essential.  It is worth emphasising that, as explained above, prevention of seed return over a period of years should greatly reduce the threat from cut-leaved crane’s-bill as the seedbank should decline more rapidly than for many other major broad-leaved weeds (e.g. charlock and poppy). 

Herbicides and resistance

  • Several herbicides are available for control of crane’s-bill, at least in major arable crops. However, with some of these, good control can only be achieved pre-emergence or by applications to young plants.  Consequently, a primary aim must be to treat crane’s-bill plants while they are small.
  • Some pre-emergence herbicides applied primarily for black-grass control in winter cereals, such as prosulfocarb, also give useful control of autumn emerging crane’s-bill but are unlikely to adequately control plants subsequently emerging in spring.  Prosulfocarb can also be used to control crane’s bill in potatoes.
  • In cereals, sulfonylurea herbicides such as metsulfuron+tribenuron can give good control of small plants but restrictions on application to after 1 February may mean that plants are too large for effective control.  Sulfonylurea and related herbicides which can be applied in autumn, such as flupyrsulfuron or pyroxsulam+florasulam, may be a better option.
  • The formulated mixture of chlorotoluron+diflufenican+pendimethalin can also control crane’s-bill species in cereal crops.
  • The older synthetic auxin herbicides, such as MCPA and mecoprop, give poor control of crane’s-bills, but the new synthetic auxin herbicide halauxifen-methyl (‘Arylex’), formulated in mixture with fluroxypyr or florasulam, gives good control (although only small-flowered crane’s-bill is on the label).
  • In winter oil-seed rape, clomazone+napropamide (pre-emergence only), and dimethenamid (only available in mixtures with metazachlor and/or quinmerac) can give good control of crane’s-bill post-emergence.  Imazamox+quinmerac (applied before 9th true leaf stage of the crop) also gives control but can only be used in ‘Clearfield’ varieties.
  • No cases of herbicide resistant crane’s-bill (or other Geranium spp.) have been detected in the UK or, indeed, worldwide. Consequently, crane’s-bill can be considered a ‘low resistance risk’ weed based on global experience but should not be consider a ‘no resistance risk’ weed due to the high dependency on herbicides for control.  If resistance is suspected, collect a seed sample and have it tested.

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