gardeners in the US are quite familiar with the florists
Cyclamen, which are hybrids of C. persicum. These are
popular Easter plants and even
though they are quite perennial, nobody seems to want
to take the time
and effort to keep them alive once they have finished
blooming. This is a
pity, as there really are some gorgeous cultivars in
commerce today. You
don't have to be a botanist to follow a few simple steps
succeed at growing them as permanent houseplants. First
of all change the
soil from the peaty florists mix to a gritty mix with
better drainage. Then all you
have to do is keep them relatively dry after they go
you see new growth in the autumn, start watering again
and fertilize with a
houseplant fertilizer about every 6-8 weeks.
But.... that's not what this story is about. This story
is about the hardy
Cyclamen species that the average home gardener can
grow outside in
their garden year round.
The word Cyclamen is derived from the Greek word kyklamenos,
simply means "circle form". I'm not sure
whether this refers to the circle at
the tip of the flower or to the round shape of the tuber
from which sprouts
forth this unusual plant. Cyclamen have been a popular
since Plato’s time, several hundred years B.C.
The genus Cyclamen resides in the Primulaceae family.
This same family is
home to about 20-30 genera such as Primula (Primroses),
(Shooting Stars) and Lysimachia
(Loosestrife). There are currently thought to be 19 species
of Cyclamen, their range extending from France, East to
the Caucasus Mountains. Turkey and Greece seem to have
the largest populations and diversity.
I grow just about all of the species, and many forms, in pots in a cool alpine
house and so far have had excellent success in growing C. hederifolium (so
named because the leaves resemble Hedera helix or English Ivy) and C.
coum outside in my zone 5 garden. I am about to try C. cilicium in the
ground as that is reported to be almost as hardy as the previous.
As I mentioned, the Cyclamen plant is considered a tuber. A flowering size
plant has a tuber that averages about 2-3" (5-7cm). I have heard stories
plants in the wild with tubers the size of dinner plates. I would define a
tuber as a short, thick, usually but not always subterranean stem or branch,
bearing buds or "eyes" and serving as a storage organ. The familiar
tuberosum (Potato) is a tuber. The tuber stores starches and carbohydrates
to keep itself alive during its summer dormancy period. In its native habitat
this is a dry period and this is the main clue about how to successfully grow
hardy Cyclamen in the garden, GOOD DRAINAGE! If you remember
nothing else about growing these marvellous plants this is key.
I've found that in the average garden, the driest place is usually under a big
tree. That's where my Cyclamen seem happiest. The tree roots suck most
of the surface moisture from the top of the ground and it’s here that
theCyclamen tuber is most at home. The second
most important thing to
remember about growing Cyclamen is to keep the top of
the tuber at the soil
level. I’ve also found that a layer of grit around
the tuber serves a threefold
purpose. First of all, it makes it rough for our slimy
enemy the slug to travel
over to get the leaves, which are a delicacy. Secondly,
it keeps standing water
away from the top of the tuber during rainy periods that
can cause it to rot.
Thirdly, it provides a dry surface upon which the maturing
seed capsules can
rest and drop their seeds to germinate. You can get granite
grit at most farmand-
feed supply houses. I prefer granite in most situations,
as it is inert and
does not affect soil pH. Although Cyclamen like a sweet
soil so it would be
OK to use limestone grit if you can't obtain granite.
In my garden, I start seeing the first flower buds at
the end of August. They
appear before the leaves and flower over a long period
of time. Most plants
flower in a deep, clear, vibrant pink colour, with each
individual flower held
up on a wiry stem about 3-5" (7-12cm) above the tuber.
however some white flowered forms and they are just as
clear and pure in
color as the pink ones. White forms will almost always
come true from
seed if the parent plants are isolated from the pink ones.
That’s another great quality about Cyclamen, once
you see how
beautiful the flowers are and how striking the foliage
is and you realize
how easy they are to grow, you're going to get hooked
MORE. And this is no problem as they readily set seed
and there is
really no trick to germination.
Fertilization seems to take place without the aid of any
as the unique design of the pendulous flowers are such
that the anthers
surround the protruding stigma and there is nowhere else
for the pollen
to go. After fertilization, the seed capsules make a neat
little coil that takes
them to the ground to insure that they will ripen in the
leaf litter and grit
that surrounds them. It takes a month or two, but cold
weather seems to
trigger germination. Once the tiny tubers establish themselves,
expect to see your first flowers in a couple of years.
I sometimes think that even if Cyclamen didn't have flowers,
it would be
a worthwhile plant to grow. The foliage has a lovely shape
and is graced
with silvery mottling patterns that are as different as
plant to plant. Collectors have isolated several strains
and they come
reasonably true from seed. One of my favourites is the
solid pewter leaf
type. There are also fragrant strains, extra large leaf
strains, well over 50 at last count.
In its native habitat the Cyclamen is an endangered plant.
collecting from the wild have decimated populations and
the Cyclamen is
now protected by CITES. CITES is the Congress on International
Endangered Species. It is a worldwide body set up to protect
plants, but also animals that are in danger of extinction.
It is illegal to
import or export Cyclamen to or from any cooperating country
a CITES permit.
If the sound of these
plants excites you, you can join the Cyclamen
(http://www.cyclamen.org). There are
currently over 1400 members
worldwide. They publish a very
informative journal twice a year and
have a seed exchange that distributes
seed that has been collected and
donated by members.
Dr. D.V. Bent, Little Pilgrims
2 Pilgrims Way East Otford,
Kent U.K. TN14 5QN
You can also obtain seeds from the seed exchanges of
other societies such
as NARGS, the North American Rock Garden Society, AGS
Garden Society and HPS, the Hardy Plant
Bibliography : There are two very good books, published
by Timber Press :
• Growing Cyclamen by Gay Nightingale
• Cyclamen by Christopher Grey-Wilson
Call: 800-327-5680 for a free catalogue or visit www.timberpress.com