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The Magic of Cyclamen
 

Many genera of alpine or rock garden plants contain species that span a broad spectrum of horticultural interest, from the stunningly beautiful through the botanically interesting to the downright ugly. This is true of several genera within the family Primulaceae, including Primula itself . By contrast, the genus Cyclamen, also in the Primulaceae, is one of few whose numerous species and cultivars are universally appealing.

Cyclamen are endowed with charming flowers ranging in color from near red through pink to white, frequently with contrasting markings at the nose which can extend into the petals; some are even bicolored. Flower shape varies considerably: the slightly dumpy (but still attractive) form of C. parviflorum and some C. coum ; the propeller form of C. trochopteranthum ; or the long, elegant, twisted gems of certain C. graecum forms. If further encouragement is needed, different Cyclamen species can be found in flower at any time from July through to April. They possess a variety of fragrances, and variably shaped, beautifully marked leaves which give interest and much pleasure long after the blooms have gone. The foliage alone justifies growing them, and it is the cause of a medically undefined compulsion that causes the afflicted to raise vast numbers of plants from seed in search of a further extension of the myriad of leaf patterns already available.

The ease of growing most Cyclamen species adds to their horticultural value . There is hardly a region of North America that cannot provide a garden home for at least one species. Cyclamen hederifolium is remarkably winter-hardy and weather-resistant, even in the coldest zones, C. purpurascens and C. coum just slightly less so. The remaining sixteen species that are in cultivation make excellent garden subjects in appropriate climates and sites (most are at least frost-hardy), and those whose basic needs cannot be met without protection are wonderful pot subjects under glass.

Species and Cultivars

Of the twenty species currently recognized by botanists, nineteen are in general cultivation.  Almost all have been further subdivided, either botanically or horticulturally, and a number of interspecific hybrids have been described. Though it is impossible to do justice to all the variants here, I will briefly discuss the merits of the species and highlight some of the newer and more interesting forms now becoming available in the specialist trade, particularly in Europe. The premier garden Cyclamen species, C. hederifolium, is discussed in greater detail, as is C. graecum, the queen of the species generally considered not frost-hardy, but a superb pot subject.

Membership in the Cyclamen Society is essential if one wishes to learn about and grow a wide variety of cyclamen from seed and become familiar with the more unusual forms. The Society produces two excellent bulletins each year and is a unique source of fresh seed, gathered both from members' cultivated plants and from plants responsibly collected during Society expeditions. (See the list at the end of this article for information on joining.)

For our purposes, the species can conveniently be divided into those that flower in fall and those that flower in late winter and spring. Depending upon how you look at it, the cyclamen season starts or ends with Cyclamen purpurascens. I prefer "starts": the welcome flowers of this woodland plant arrive in the dog days of summer, accompanied by a delightful sweet fragrance and leaves that can be plain green (in the form known as ‘C. fatrense ') or well marked with silver or pewter splashes. Sometimes the entire leaf is washed with silver; such forms are found in the Lake Garda region of Italy. Cyclamen purpurascens is not the easiest species to please in the garden, but it is remarkably cold-hardy, tending to object more to the heat of the summer, when considerable shade is beneficial in hot climes. It has probably the shortest dormancy of any species—in fact, the emergent flowers and leaves often coincide with the final throes of the previous season's foliage. The usual color range is pink to near-purple, and white forms are rarely encountered. The recently described C. colchicum is a close relative of C. purpurascens.

Of all the species, Cyclamen hederifolium  is without doubt the most garden-worthy. Not only will it provide flowers throughout the autumn, it will also reward you with a carpet of beautifully marked leaves for up to 9 months of the year. In the wild, C hederifolium is a woodland plant, but in the garden it tolerates a wide range of conditions as long as it has a well-drained but moisture-retentive growing medium. Once established, it happily seeds itself around, and in a few years a large drift can result, with seedlings in leaf forms that can be totally different from those of the parents. Individual corms can be very long-lived, reaching the size of a dinner plate. The corms lie at or just below the soil surface. In our garden in southeastern Pennsylvania, we have hundreds of plants seeding extensively on a south-facing slope on the woodland edge, some parts of which receive barely any shade. In large populations, one often sees the first flowers as early as late July, especially after a rainstorm, but the main display is in October. A more tolerant plant would be hard to find, and a place should be found in any garden for the everyman's cyclamen .

Cyclamen hederifolium is distributed in southern Europe from southeastern France and Italy through mainland Greece, on the Greek islands down to Crete, and eastward to southwestern Turkey. It is also known from Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia. Thus, it is not surprising that it is quite variable. Plants with pink and white flowers are found throughout its range; whites are much rarer in the wild than in cultivation. The leaf shape varies tremendously, from the usual ivy shape suggested by the specific epithet to remarkable long, thin sagittate (arrowhead-shaped) forms. Leaf marking seems infinitely variable, from plain green to completely silver, with every combination in between. Various named strains (see below) are available, but it is not necessary to hunt them down. Any large batch of seedlings produces a fabulous range of leaf forms.

Possibly the most distinct botanical variant is Cyclamen hederifolium var. confusum, reserved for plants from the Mani Peninsula of southern Greece, Sicily, Crete, and a few Greek islands; these plants have much larger, shiny, deep green, leathery leaves and a more robust stature, and they tend to flower later, sometimes not until November. The corms may be as hardy as the type race, but the foliage (in my garden) certainly is not; plants are usually completely defoliated by the New Year, as the leaves seem very susceptible to ice and snow damage.

There are numerous named horticultural forms of C. hederifolium, but few of these are stable enough to produce identical offspring. This brings us to a phenomenon that can cause great joy but also endless frustration to cyclamen growers. Cyclamen are extremely difficult to propagate vegetatively (the corms never form offsets) and are quite variable from seed, and only a small percentage resemble the parent plant. The practice of naming exceptional individual cultivars can cause great disappointment to those growing their offspring. For example, it is now very rare to find plants that in any way resemble the original C. hederifolium ‘Bowles Apollo', selected many years ago from the garden of E. A. Bowles. Seed of this cultivar has been widely distributed, and the progeny have kept the name with little or no reference to the original description.  Even repeated and rigorous selection and back-crossing with the aim of generating a true-breeding seed strain does not succeed. Although many Cyclamen species can be flowered from seed in two years, it is a very conscientious nurseryman who flowers every seedling and ensures they are true to type before selling them. It seems pointless to give cultivar names to cyclamen unless back-crossing the best seedlings with the original has produced a strain that breeds at least 95% true, and the distinctive characteristics of the cultivar are published, well understood, and adhered to. 

Cyclamen africanum is virtually indistinguishable by eye from C. hederifolium , although its flower and leaf variation is not nearly so spectacular. Hybrids between the two species occur freely, and it can be very hard to tell exactly what one is growing. The leaves generally rise directly from the tuber whereas in C. hederifolium they spread laterally before rising.  In a pot this is often manifest by a ring of leaves around the edge.  If in doubt, plant it out: by the end of the winter, you can identify the dead plants as C. africanum.

Cyclamen intaminatum , C. cilicium , and C. mirabile are three small Turkish species that are undeniably elegant, reasonably hardy, and very floriferous from relatively small tubers, blooming somewhat ahead of the foliage. C. intaminatum is a delicate beauty that usually begins flowering with me around September, slightly before its two relatives. Plants would be lost in the open garden, the individual scentless flowers being only 1-2 cm (less than 1 inch) long. The leaves, small and round, can be plain or faintly traced with silver. The flowers are marked with faint gray veins from nose to tip and are usually off-white but can be pale pink. However, beware! The pinkness of a "pink" form varies considerably from year to year in a way that I have not been able to correlate with any particular environmental or cultural condition. My two best pink-flowered plants were both as white as the driven snow in the past two years.

Cyclamen cilicium is another species of quiet charm, relatively invariant in both flower and leaf form. The foliage may be plain green or, more usually, may have a creamy-silver hastate (spearhead) pattern; the flowers may be pink with deeper markings around the mouth, or pure white. Darker pink forms are becoming available, and all have a delightful scent.

Cyclamen mirabile is perhaps the most exciting of these three Turkish species, especially with the recent introduction of some cultivars by Peter Moore of Tilebarn Nursery in the UK. The type forms are clearly distinct in both flower and leaf from C. cilicium , although their botanical distinctiveness has been questioned. The flowers of C. mirabile are delicately fimbriate (fringed), and the rounded leaves can have a curious puckered appearance, with marginal teeth, which are absent in C. cilicium . Flower color can be pink or white, the latter being characteristic of the cultivar ‘Tilebarn Jan'. ‘Tilebarn Nicholas' and ‘Tilebarn Anne' were selected because of their remarkable leaf coloration, especially in the juvenile stage. ‘Tilebarn Nicholas' has a bright raspberry flush in an outer band on the young leaves, the inner portion of the leaves being marked with a glossy green "Christmas tree." The raspberry eventually fades to a muted pewter shade. In ‘Tilebarn Anne', the entire surface of the young leaves is raspberry pink, producing a spectacular display. As discussed above, even though great efforts have been undertaken to derive true-breeding strains, only a percentage of the offspring of a plant meeting the cultivar description will comply, and the others should be rogued out.

Cyclamen rohlfsianum is a very distinctive species and quite tender; even a light frost burns its foliage. It is native to Libya. The flowers are unique in that the cone of stamens protrudes well below the mouth,  somewhat resembling a dodecatheon. Flower color is pale to deeper pink, the petals often being finely veined in pink. A single white-flowered plant has recently appeared in cultivation. The leaves of this species are coarse, wider than long, and lobed, with a coarsely toothed margin; they can be banded with cream or silver markings. It is the one species that appears to benefit from a totally dry dormancy. C. rohlfsianum is relatively stingy with its flowers, and these have a tendency to come with the leaves. It is said that the timing of the first watering dictates their timing and that of leaf emergence, but, since coming to the US from Britain, my plants have all flowered well before the leaves emerged, and my watering regime has not changed.

If Cyclamen hederifolium is the premier garden cyclamen, then Cyclamen graecum is the ultimate species for pots. It is difficult to find a spot in most UK and northern US gardens where it will grow well enough to flower, even if it survives the frost. In the wild, it can be found in the harshest habitats, often with its tubers squeezed into rock crevices in the heat of the Mediterranean sun. The tough contractile anchor roots hold the tuber tight to the substrate and delve deeply in search of moisture to sustain it through the hot, dry summer. Herein lies the secret to successful cultivation and flowering: a dry tuber with a hint of moisture deep in the compost. There are several ways to achieve this, one being to sink the pots in a sand plunge kept barely moist during summer. Pots stood on the ground often have considerable root activity out of the drainage holes searching for moisture, and this also suffices.

 

Botanically,  C. graecum is now split into three subspecies: ssp. graecum from Greece and its islands, including most of Crete but excluding Rhodes; ssp. anatolicum from Turkey, Rhodes, and North Cyprus; and ssp. mindleri from a small area of the White Mountains in Crete. While plants conforming to the descriptions of the subspecies are distinct, many aficionados with vast experience of the plants in the wild insist that some individuals in most populations can be keyed out to any of the subspecies, often hundreds of miles from their recorded distribution. Taxonomy!

A white form of C. graecum ssp. graecum was found some years ago in southern Greece and was thought to occur only there, but recently white-flowered plants have also been found in northwestern Crete. All forms are beautiful plants, with leaf markings second to none in the genus: various shades of green, cream, gray, and silver form intricate patterns that include shields, borders, splashes, and veining. The leaves, which may be very large or so small they seem to form a cushion, can have a velvety texture, adding to their appeal.

It is impossible to speak too highly of Cyclamen graecum. It has a reputation of being difficult to flower well, but, given the correct summer treatment, it blooms profusely. It is easy to become obsessed with this species alone. Pat Nicholls grows around a hundred mature plants and several hundred seedlings in a greenhouse totally devoted to them. This species seems particularly to resent over-potting (being grown in a pot that is too large for the corm), so repotting every three or four years is appropriate, when the corm and roots seem ready to burst the pot. Short spells a few degrees below freezing seem not to damage leaves or corms, and there is one bizarre volunteer in our US garden that has survived and grown (slowly) outside and unprotected in temperatures as low as 5 ° F (-15 ° C). The leaves burn very badly in the ice and snow but increase in size and number every year, and it hasn't flowered yet.

The last of the fall-flowering species is Cyclamen cyprium , which often bridges the gap between winter and spring. The flowers are white or very pale pink with attractive darker markings and very prominent auricles, the little "ears" that stick out at the bottom of the flower. It also has a pronounced spicy scent. The leaves of the type form are relatively plain but distinctly angular; in the cultivar ‘E. S.', however, they are fabulously spotted and blotched with cream-silver. C. cyprium is more frost-hardy than frequently claimed. One of the most attractive cyclamen hybrids, C. ´ wellensiekii , has C. cyprium and C. libanoticum as its parents and is truly intermediate between the two. The two parents rarely flower at the same time, C. libanoticum being spring-flowering plant, but stored pollen can be used to good effect.

Although slightly out of chronological order, we can consider Cyclamen libanoticum here . The flower is uniquely broad and a lovely pale pink, paler at the nose, with little trace of auricles. It tends to be few-flowered, and the leaves are not spectacular, although better forms can be selected. It has a distinctive peppery fragrance. Like the previous species, it can be successfully grown outside and withstands several degrees of frost.

Cyclamen coum, C. trochopteranthum, and C. parviflorum form a complex of related late winter- to spring-flowering species, the time depending on growing climate. Cyclamen parviflorum is a high-alpine Turkish species that can be rather miffy in cultivation. Its flowers are small and dumpy, and with its small, plain, round leaves, it is not the glam queen of the genus. It does have a quiet presence that could border on charm to some beholders, though. Cyclamen trochopteranthum is reasonably cold-hardy and is best known for its flowers, which are shaped like propellers and have a lovely spicy scent. They are pale to deep pink; a handsome white form is rarely encountered. The leaves can be attractively spotted with silver.

Cyclamen coum is the spring counterpart of C. hederifolium , making a superb garden plant in many regions and coming in a variety of flower colors and leaf patterns. Many cultivars have been named, and forms true to type are well worth seeking out. It has proved very disappointing as a garden plant in Pennsylvania, at least in the forms I am growing. Although the tuber is undoubtedly completely hardy, the leaves are very badly damaged by snow and ice, although they are untouched by very cold air. I understand that there are races around that behave much better in this respect and put on a good show in, for example, upstate New York.    C. coum ‘Urfa' is one form which resists damage.

The flowers of C. coum are similar in shape to those of C. parviflorum , albeit larger in all parts, and lack the elegance of the more slender and pointed flowers of other species, except in subspecies e legans. This plant is desirable for its heart-shaped (rather than round) glossy leaves and flowers with beautifully pointed petals; it is in a class of its own. Of the named forms of C. coum , I'd like to single out three favorites. ‘Golan Heights', a relatively new pure white form with slightly fimbriate petals and plain glossy green leaves. makes a lovely display. Originating in the borderland of Israel and Jordan, it is rather more tender than the typical forms and also seems less robust. ‘Nymans' is an old cultivar with flowers of deep magenta, offset by superb pewter leaves. The original ‘Nymans' appears long gone, but plants bearing this name are worth acquiring. Finally, ‘Tilebarn Elizabeth' has lovely bicolored flowers shading from very pale to mid-pink with an almost luminous quality, flying over solid pewter leaves.

Cyclamen pseudibericum is the most beautiful of the species flowering in early to mid-spring. The sweetly fragrant, long-lasting flowers are large and bold yet retain elegance; they are usually deep purple-magenta, or a lovely rose pink in forma roseum. The leaves are beautifully shaped, the better forms being strongly marked with gray-green through cream-silver over a very glossy dark green ground.

Cyclamen persicum is often ignored in any discussion of "proper" cyclamen because it is perceived to be responsible for the florist's cyclamen. Nonetheless, it is well worth growing in its wild forms, and there are some lovely ones around, from palest pinks to pure white. The cultivar found on the island of Karpathos and named after it as ‘Tilebarn Karpathos' is the most stunning, with flowers of intense cerise. In many ways, this species masquerades as a spring version of C. graecum , but without the latter's refinement and leaf variation. It is hardier than often supposed and can withstand a few degrees of frost.

Bringing up the rear in the cyclamen year are the members of the Cyclamen repandum group: the various subspecies and varieties of C. repandum, C. balearicum, and C. creticum , and their interspecific hybrids .  All three species are plants of shady places, and they have very thin leaves which wilt easily in the strengthening spring sunshine. All possess refined elegance, sweet fragrance, and fine twisted petals. C. repandum , at least in its type form, is relatively hardy and makes an excellent woodland garden subject, but the other two species are definitely for pots and protection.

Cyclamen balearicum and C. creticum are relatively underrated, probably because they tend to get passed over in favor of the host of other alpine bulbs flowering at this time of year. Both have small, white, delicately veined flowers, in the latter species they may occasionally be pale pink, and the leaves are fairly unspectacular, although they can be pleasingly splashed with silver flecks and blotches.

The flowers of Cyclamen repandum commonly range from glowing magenta (in ssp. peloponnesiacum var. vividum ) to pale pink with a darker pink rim, although there is a fine white form too. The leaves are heart-shaped and often deeply lobed or angled; they are the last among the species to emerge and are particularly susceptible to rots brought on by heavy-handed watering. Of the three subspecies of C. repandum, ssp . peloponnesiacum can have pure silver-colored leaves, or even better, foliage spectacularly flecked with silver, as if flicked with a loaded paintbrush. It can often be May before the last flowers of C. repandum depart, leaving only a two-month gap before the cycle starts again with C. purpurascens.

Garden Cultivation

The cold-hardiness of many species is surprising, and several traditionally considered to be tender in fact show some degree of hardiness. Many species survive and even thrive outside in areas where winter temperatures do not dip much below 20° F (-7° C). As I have found to be true of numerous other bulbs whose cold-hardiness proves greater than I expected, correct positioning and soil conditions are crucial. Excellent drainage is paramount; it is ice rather than cold that kills, and bulbs and corms in a soil that was only faintly moist when it froze can survive far lower temperatures than those that freeze in a wet medium. This phenomenon is exaggerated when plants are grown in pots.

Generally, most Cyclamen require some shade during the hottest part of the day, a very well-drained but moisture-retentive soil, and a relatively dry rest during their dormant season. The emphasis here is on "relatively": several species, such as C. hederifolium , tolerate regular watering, whereas others require a dry (but not "baked") rest. Several species in the latter category are best treated as pot plants, where watering is much easier to regulate. Bear in mind that species such as C. graecum experience long hot, dry dormancy in the wild, but their corms are frequently very deeply buried, and the long roots are probably always in contact with a cooler, slightly moist substrate. Cyclamen corms can be eaten by mice, voles, squirrels, and other animals, but our five cats are under strict instructions, and so far we have not lost any tasty bulbs or corms to these beasties.

Cultivation in pots

It is possible to grow superb specimens of all species in containers, as evidenced by the stunning plants regularly seen at shows. Although subtle variations in cultivation can benefit certain species, the reality is that most can be treated in exactly the same way. Seed-raised plants always position their corms at the interface between the compost (the soil mixture—not "compost" in the US sense of decomposed vegetable matter) on which they were sown and the grit used as top-dressing, and this is exactly the way we grow mature plants. Although little or no harm is done by burying the corms slightly, the emerging growth is much more likely to rot off if the compost is too wet. Control of fungal pathogens is facilitated if the growth points are above the compost.

There is no magical compost, either. I have used soil-based ones, suitably amended with grit and some peat or bark-based material to increase moisture retention. Because ready-made soil-based composts (referred to in the UK as "John Innes" composts) are not available in the US, I now have to find alternatives. All my bulbs, corms, and tubers are now grown in a mixture of BioComp BC5 (composted peanut hulls) and perlite. If anyone had suggested that mix to me while I was still in the UK, I think I would still be laughing–but it works wonderfully for Cyclamen, Crocus, Narcissus, Corydalis, Iris, and other genera. The pots are top-dressed with a half-inch or so of coarse grit.

As is the case in many branches of horticulture, especially alpine gardening, the real skill comes in turning on the hose at the right time and pointing it in the right direction for just long enough. Cyclamen are certainly vulnerable to over-watering, especially during dormancy, but it is not desperately difficult to get it about right. Drier is definitely preferable to too wet, and regular observation of your plants should result in relatively few mistakes being made. The growth of many species actually starts weeks or months before top growth is apparent. C. coum is amazing in this respect: the growing points swell and leaf and flower stalks start to extend in late July, even though they don't flower until mid to late winter. Once growth is noted, it is important not to let the pots get too dry. However, it is best to reserve the onset of regular watering until September or even later, and copious water should be applied only when significant top growth is evident.

There is no general agreement on whether to feed cyclamen. I now use an in-line feeder that allows weak feeding every time watering is carried out, and this seems to have been beneficial.  I use ‘Miracle Grow' fertilizer, and the same effect can be had by watering with this at half strength whenever the plants are watered.

Cyclamen suffer from relatively few pests and diseases, especially if the plants are observed regularly and repotted as necessary (under-pot rather than over-pot). Species with deeply delving, thong-like roots, such as C. graecum, C. persicum, and C. rohlfsianum, benefit from deeper pots. As discussed above, too wet a compost can and will cause the corms to rot, usually as a result of fungal infection. By the time this is noticed, either because the plants make no new top growth after dormancy or because the leaves and flowers wilt and yellow prematurely, it is usually too late to remedy. In the UK and in the US Pacific Northwest and Canada's West Coast, botrytis can be a problem.  In the UK this is usually manifest whenever the weather is damp and dull, especially during fall through late winter; in the USA this phenomenon is restricted to the spring. In Pennsylvania, the humidity of summer is usually past before the plants start flowering in earnest. Spent flowers and flower stems can act as nuclei, so it is best to remove them as soon as possible. Fungicidal treatments can help but are really not necessary for the average collection, especially if good air movement is maintained.

Vine weevil can do serious damage to cyclamen, and again, good plant husbandry goes a long way to making sure pest populations do not build up to levels that result in serious damage. After six years in southeastern Pennsylvania, we have yet to see a vine weevil. Aphids can also attack cyclamen, but they are susceptible to many systemic insecticides. Squirrels have been known to strip seed capsules in the garden, but this is generally sporadic and localized and does little long-term harm to large plantings. 

Propagation

Raising cyclamen from seed is one of life's great pleasures. Vegetative propagation by division of the corms into one or more pieces, each with a growing point, is possible, but it is little used and perhaps best saved for the rescue of diseased corms in which the rot has not spread too far. Growing them from seed, by contrast, is easy and very rewarding. The seed exchange of the Cyclamen Society is unsurpassed, with fresh seed of more than 100 species, cultivars, and wild collections available every year. Endless surprises await you, so great is the possible variation.

Seed should be sown as fresh as possible. If sown by late summer or early fall, it generally germinates the next growing season, fall or spring depending on the species. There are several accepted ways to sow and germinate cyclamen seed, some more scientific and involved than others. Cool temperatures (below 59 ° F/15 ° C) and darkness are required, but these can be provided in many ways, artificially or naturally. The following method has worked well, generally giving timely, high-percentage germination.

The same compost used for mature plants is used for seed, which is surface sown and covered with a ½-inch (c.1 cm) layer of grit. After watering, the pots are stood in a shady place and kept evenly moist. When the time is right, the seeds germinate and the fun begins, although the first season, most species make only a single, usually unmarked leaf. It is beneficial to keep the seedlings growing as long as possible, keeping them cool, shaded, and well watered. When they finally go dormant, they should be given more moisture than mature specimens, because they can be very prone to desiccation, and they seem less susceptible to rots when young.

Seedlings should be treated like more mature plants from the second season onward, but not transplanted until they are a couple of years old. My preference is to leave them to flower in the seed pots, especially if I am trying to select better forms. This saves much time and space, and the plants do not suffer as long as overcrowding is not extreme. Potting up is best done during dormancy, ideally as the plants are "thinking" about waking up. After potting, they should not be allowed to dry out at all. Some species (e.g., C. hederifolium ) can flower in their second year, but most require two to four years; C. rohlfsianum generally takes the longest, up to five years from seed sowing.

Sowing seed collected from one's own plants is particularly enjoyable, but this obviously requires getting seed set in the first place. As in most contexts, good children result from good parents. This is particularly true for cyclamen, and it pays to start with some of the more interesting leaf and flower forms as seed sources. Fertility varies considerably from plant to plant, and seed is not always set naturally, especially on plants you value the most! Hand-pollination with a small paintbrush is certainly beneficial. Since we have moved to the US, I have found that early flowers are particularly difficult to pollinate, either naturally or artificially, and this seems to correlate with higher humidity earlier in the season. Seed set is better in the fall when the humidity is much lower. Fertilization is obvious because the flower drops rapidly from the swelling ovary and the pedicel starts to coil or bend to bring the capsule down to within the relatively protected area under the leaves. The way the pedicel coils or loops down is species-specific and is fascinating to watch. Excess heat or dryness, especially in the early phase after seed set, can cause abortion.

Irrespective of the time of year the seed was set, it ripens the following midsummer. The capsules can be huge on some species but are generally around half an inch (1 cm) in diameter. Just before the capsule splits open, it becomes softer and "squishy." The seeds inside are now pale honey-brown and ripe for collection. If you miss this opportunity, the capsule will split, causing a terminal hole to appear through which the seeds can be seen. If not harvested, they will either be removed by ants (which love their sticky, sweet coating), or they will rapidly dry and fall from the capsule. All seeds should be ripe by mid to late July, usually later in the garden than under glass.

Cyclamen are beautiful, elegant plants, and growing and raising them from seed is a fascinating hobby, not particularly difficult but incredibly rewarding. Whether you want drifts of plants in the garden or beautiful pot-grown specimens under glass, they offer something for everyone. Give them a try if you are new to them, and if you already have some, experiment with a few of the less well-known species – and expect a few surprises and a lot of fun.

Acknowledgment

I would very much like to thank Pat Nicholls, an active member of the Cyclamen Society who gardens in Shoreham, England, who kindly contributed material to this article on C. hederifolium and C. graecum.  Pat is an excellent grower and specializes in C. graecum , growing well over one hundred mature plants and many more seedlings.

Grey-Wilson, Christopher. Cyclamen: A Guide for Gardeners, Horticulturists, and Botanists. Portland: Timber Press, 1997.

Sources

To enquire about membership of the Cyclamen Society contact:  

Dr David Bent, Little Pilgrims, 2 Pilgrims Way East, Otford, Sevenoaks,
Kent. TN14 5QN, United Kingdom.  Email: membership@cyclamen.org

Cyclamen seed is always available through the seed exchanges of NARGS, AGS, and SRGC.   All species are now covered by CITES regulations, importation of plants into the USA requires a permit.

Tilebarn Nursery is the UK's premier nursery for Cyclamen species.  Peter Moore, the proprietor, is a founding member of the Cyclamen Society and has traveled on many Society Expeditions.  The nursery sells a very wide range of seed-raised cyclamen and, as a result of his extensive breeding efforts, Peter has introduced several new and exciting cultivars.  The nursery exports worldwide.  To import into the USA, the UK authorities require you have a USDA import permit (free of charge).  A small charge for a CITES certificate is added to your nursery invoice.

Tile Barn Nursery, Standen Street, Iden Green, Benenden, Kent, TN17 4LB
United Kingdom.  Email: sales@tilebarn-cyclamen.co.uk
Telephone/Fax: +44 (0)1580 240221

North American gardeners can obtain domestically propagated corms from the following nurseries:

Hansen Nursery, P.O. Box 228, North Bend, OR 97459 <www.hansennursery.com>

David Fischer, P.O. Box 96, Wiscasset, ME 04578

Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, 2825 Cummings Rd., Medford, OR 97501 <www.siskiyourareplantnursery.com >

Seneca Hill Perennials, 3712 Co. Rte. 57, Oswego, NY 13126 <www.senecahill.com>