Having seen the dainty pink flowers of Cyclamen hederifolium, few can resist trying to grow it. It is essentially a woodland plant, in Europe it does best in the shade of deciduous trees. In summer its tubers lie dormant, dry among the tree roots; as the trees lose their leaves, the tubers feel the first autumnal rains and spring to life.
Each flower lasts for weeks and the display is lengthened by the succession of flowers. Even young corms produce several flowers over a few weeks; older corms, which can be the size of a dinner plate and may be up to 100 years old, can reliably produce hundreds.
In August to October, the small flowers occur in a wide range of shades. Both leaf and flower colour depends on the parent plant and where it is positioned. The attractively marbled, ivy-like foliage dies away in spring and does not reappear until well after the plant has started to flower. There are few plants that offer such ornately decorative foliage. The foliage has a purple underside but it is their surface patterns and markings that make the leaves so special. No two plants are the same and a mass planting of Cyclamen hederifolium in the late autumn or winter is more fascinating than the most intricately detailed Persian carpet.
In the wild, cyclamen inhabit rocky outcrops in semi-arid regions of Turkey, southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. They are protected from burning sunlight by the shade from surrounding plants. The plants have adapted well to gardens, where dry soil and heavy shade from overhanging branches are commonplace. The cyclamen's low habit and preference for shade means that they are best used as ground cover beneath deciduous plants. The flowers and attractive leaves will provide a feature until late spring when its neighbouring larger plants again come into leaf.
The RHS have awarded Cyclamen hederifolium the Award of Garden Merit (AGM)
Sowing: Sow as soon as possible at cool temperatures.
Growing from seed is quite straightforward, though you may have to wait quite some time before the first flowers appear, typically 18 months to two years.
Cyclamen have been found to germinate best in total darkness at around 13 to 16°C (55 to 60°F). Stored seed can be sown from late winter to mid-spring to flower in autumn of the same year. The seed must be soaked in water for 10 hours or more and then rinsed thoroughly before sowing.
Sow the seed into small pots containing a fairly light, gritty soil and lightly cover with soil. Most of the seed should germinate in 28 to 42 days but some may be considerably longer. Do not throw away the pots for at least one year.
The seedlings may be pricked out into individual 7.5cm (3in) pots as soon as they are large enough to easily handle without damaging their fleshy stems. Pot on year-old seedlings and grow for another year before planting outside permanently. Try to site the tubers where excess moisture can drain away. The tops of the corms should be level with the surrounding earth or just submerged.
Cyclamen generally prefer partial shade, very well drained, dry soil and cool conditions. They dislike old manure or excessive feeding. They will need mulching each year with leaf-mould. They thrive in lightly shaded rockeries, growing happily in the crevices between rocks and also adapt well to container cultivation, especially in alpine troughs. Most species have a preference for neutral to slightly alkaline conditions. Adding a few limestone chips to the soil aids the drainage and keeps the pH about right. That said, tough species like hederifolium usually adapt well to being cultivated with acid soil plants such as ericas and dwarf rhododendrons, so don't be afraid to experiment.
Once settled, a hardy cyclamen will soon self-seed freely and can spread considerably to cover large areas. Nature is never more ingenious than in the distribution of cyclamen seeds. As the flowers fade after pollination, the stems curl up, spiralling down to ground level. The seed case expands, protected by the emerging leaves, then splits, exposing the seeds.
The seeds a sticky, starchy coating that changes to sugar, called an elaiosome it attracts ants and wasps. They carry the seed away, eat the elaiosome and discard the seed - ensuring that young plants do not compete with their parents. New plants may be raised by collecting the golden-brown seed as soon as the capsules split in late summer.
Shade/Woodland Gardens, Rock gardens, Containers, Underplanting
Cyclamen are a genus of plants containing 23 species, which are part of the family of Primulaceae, the Primrose family. In the wild, they are natives of parts of Europe, western Asia and parts of North Africa, with their distribution centred on the Mediterranean. They are tuberous plants and have no obvious affinity with Primroses, although they do resemble the North American Dodecatheon in having reflexed petals.
Cyclamen hederifolium is native to woodland, shrub land, and rocky areas in the Mediterranean region from southern France to western Turkey and on Mediterranean islands, and naturalised farther north in Europe and in the Pacific Northwest. It is the most widespread cyclamen species, the most widely cultivated after the florist's cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), and the most hardy and vigorous in oceanic climates.
Cyclamen hederifolium was formerly known as Cyclamen neapolitanum and this name erronously persists today in some nurseries.
The name Cyclamen comes from the Greek word kyklos meaning 'ring' or 'circle', and amen (from the Hebrew) meaning ‘truly’ in reference to the coiled fruiting stalk or the rounded tubers.
The species name hederifolium is derived from the Latin for Ivy, hedera and folium meaning ‘leaf’. The older species name, neapolitanum, refers to Naples, where the species grows.
It is commonly known as the Ivy-leaved cyclamen. Another common name is Sowbread, the corms are regarded as a favourite food for swine in the South of France, Sicily and Italy.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Family Primulaceae Genus Cyclamen Species hederifolium Synonym Cyclamen neapolitanum Common Name Hardy, Ivy-leaved or Neapolitan cyclamen.
Wildflower of Europe
Other Common Names Wild Cyclamen Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Hardy to minus 28ºC (-19ºF) Flowers Pale to rose pinks Natural Flower Time August to October Foliage Mottled silver grey. Smooth textured Height 10-15cm (4-6in) Spread 22-30cm (9-12in) Position Light Shade