December 11, 2011

The Twelve Cyclamen of Christmas

Cyclamen species, (the 'wild' cyclamen or Europe and the Mediterranean)  all have beautifully patterned winter foliage
Here are twelve different leaf forms found in wild cyclamen species, While watering the greenhouse today, I was struck by the diversity and beauty that the entire collects presents as a display. Since I never take these plants into the house, no one sees them, so I will share a dozen forms here. All are from my collection growing in a sand plunge bed in the greenhouse. I find that winter cyclamen foliage display is something that I look forward to every year, even the seedlings are fun to evaluate every winter, selecting ones with more patterned leaves, especially with the Cyclamen hederifolium seedlings, variety can mean getting some leaves long a slender, like arrowheads,while others form a strong, Christmas tree pattern. A few emerge with the choicest of all leave patterns - none, rather they are completely silver, like pewter or silver - cyclamen species are perhaps the most Christmassy of plants.

Cyclamen coum Pewter Group
 In these weeks before Christmas, potted Cyclamen in full bloom are appearing in flower shops and grocery stores as gift plants for the home, but the genus Cyclamen offers much more for the serious gardener, and even in southern New England, some species can be grown outdoors. The wild cyclamen are preferred by plant collectors, and they appeal to me too. I've been collecting Cyclamen for ten years now, starting plants from wild collected seed and from other collectors, in an attempt to collect ever species. They begin blooming in October, and some species bloom near the end of their growing season in April, but I am always caught off guard when I see the foliage without flowers. Cyclamen is one genus where the foliage is as interesting and attractive as the floral display is.

Cyclamen hederifolium 'Arrow Head form'
The wild cyclamen species are primarily winter growing woodland plants, treasured by serious gardeners in England and in Oregon and Washington, or in temperate areas where winter means temperatures that hover just above freezing ( think parts of Italy, France, Germany). But in New England, they can be challenging to keep, due to our often icy winters, and unpredictable winter thaws. If you are interested in growing a few, try the most winter hardy, Cyclamen coum, and C. hederifolium. Cyclamen graecum and C. africanum are not frost-hardy in the north.

Cyclamen hederifolium var. confusum
 I find that the easiest way to master Cyclamen is to imagine them in the wild, as an understory woodland plant growing under the fallen leaves in deciduous forests.  Most follow a growth cycle similar to the ephemerals we all love ( the first flowers of spring, that bloom before the leaves come out on the trees - trillium, bloodroot, anemone. The only difference is that Cyclamen often start their 'srping' earlier, like, in Autumn. Both norther ephemerals and cyclamen like to go dormant in the summer, when the woodland becomes dry due to the full canopy of leaves. Nature is so smart. In autumn, when the temperature and tree leaves drop, they begin their growth cycle again, which is why most cyclamen are truly winter plants. and not unlike the helebores and other evergreen winter growing plants of the zone 9 woodland where deep freezes are rare.
Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum

Cyclamen africanum

 Over the past 100 years, cyclamen have been bred and grown as potted plants with countless selection, ranging from fancy doubles, fragrant forms, fringed and ruffled foliage, and of course, spectacularly mottled foliage. Most are quite nice, but difficult to keep alive in a traditional home environment, since like all cylamen, they prefer cool, if not cold temperature, especially at night, as well as fresh, buoyant air.
Cyclamen persicum

Cyclamen rohlfsianum

Cyclamen graecum subsp. candicum

Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Cloud' selection 
Cyclamen hederifolium forma albiflorum

Cyclamen hederifolium "Tile Barn" seedling

Want to keep your  florist cyclamen alive ? Here's how:

Cyclamen as potted Holiday plants can be found all over the globe in December, and January, look for selections with interesting foliage, for now two cyclamen have the same patterns, and check for fragrance, for some have a sweet or nutmeg-like scent. All florist cylclamen are hybrid varieties of one species,  Cyclamen persicum, a tender species from Persia that cannot handle heavy frosts, yet these plants still appreciate a bright, cool window with a northern exposure, and cooler night temperatures if you can provide it. They are challenging to keep growing once they stop blooming, but you can try. Just remember to keep the plants cool, in bright light ( not sunlight), and when the foliage begins to turn yellow in late winter, allow the plants to dry out. A summer rest is required, with only a tiny drop or two of water necessary.  Plants should start growing in late summer when the night time temperatures begin to drop, so plant should be brought outdoors, and kept dryish through the summer ( under an eave of a house int he shade). They require autumn rains to begin growing again, so take care to relocate them near the end of august.


  1. What a beautiful collection. I love all the leaf patterns that cyclamen display. I had a large collection grown from seed but without a real greenhouse they became overwhelming. So nice to see them again. I did sow some coum outdoors several years ago and found little babies this year. Maybe I will have that patch of cyclamen one day.

  2. Just beautiful...I seem to always forget just how amazing the foliage of these beauties is!

  3. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Is it possible to plant the wild Cyclamen outside in zone 5?

  4. Drooling over these, splendid!

  5. I grow C. hederifolium outdoors in zone 5, but suggest that you look for micro climates that are dry in the summer, under trees, and not too wet in the winter. C. coum is a bit more tender, but I have kept some alive in my most protected areas.

  6. I never realized they had such a wide range of foliage! I'm kind of in awe of how great your plants look.

  7. I too look forward to the yearly flush of cyclamen leaves. While they'r flowers are interesting, I think I'm even more amazed by their foliage. A most excellent shot, with some great varieties!

  8. I’ve used orchid food on my house plants and potted cactus in the garden,because that’s all I had at the time.They all benefit,and it’s better to use what you have first,before spending more money on plant food.If you do go out and buy new fertilizer after the orchid food runs out,general formulas like Miracle Gro and Osmocote or their generic equivalents will feed everything in your garden.


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