Cyclamen coum, or the ‘Persian violet’ (though it's not a violet) is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, where it grows as a plant of shady forests. It has some remarkable qualities which make it well-adored as a cultivated ornamental plant: early-blooming, relatively hardy, a delicate but cheery appearance and low maintenance. No wonder, perhaps, that it is a recipient of the RHS Award of Garden Merit.
The dainty blooms open from early winter and continue unabated into spring, the main display is often at its best in February, bright among the snowdrops. The short, rather square flowers vary from white to rosy-purple with every hue in between, and sometimes of such quantity almost to obscure the leaves. The flowers, of whatever colour, invariably bear a darker marking at the apex, around the corolla.
The leaves has rounded, to more pointed leaves and generally have silver patterning over dark green, and some of the most attractive leaf forms are silvered with a darker 'Christmas tree' pattern in the centre.
The leaves and the flowers appear at the same time from tubers underground.
This hardy plant is remarkably resistant to frost and has been known to survive prolonged temperatures of around minus 28ºC (-19ºF). Although they can look very down hearted when frozen, they immediately perk-up on thawing out. This is a terrific plant for rockeries or alpine troughs and is at home in sun or partial shade.
One day – who knows - some sharp-eyed gardener may grow the truly white Cyclamen coum, the albino without a blotch, which is incredibly rare in the wild. In the meantime there are few sights which surpass a mixed planting on an early spring morning, perhaps with some lilac crocus somewhere near and a blackbird singing in a tree above. That depends on luck, but plant those cyclamen!
The RHS have awarded Cyclamen coum 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 coum 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. Each has a starchy coating that changes to sugar, attracting ants and wasps, which carry the seeds away - 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 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, their distribution is centred on the Mediterranean, being natives of parts of Europe, western Asia and parts of North Africa. They are tuberous plants and have no obvious affinity with Primroses, although they do resemble the North American Dodecatheon in having reflexed petals.
Cyclamen coum can be found in the mountains and coastal areas that border the southern and eastern Black Sea coasts from Bulgaria in the west through Georgia and the Crimea in the east. It is also found in the Elburz Mountains of northern Iran. In southern Turkey it extends from the Hatay in southern Turkey, down the eastern Mediterranean coast through Syria and the Lebanon into Israel. It grows in shady places in coniferous and broad leafed woodland and scrub, sometimes growing amongst tree roots and rocks.
A totally white flowered form, Cyclamen coum ssp. coum f. albissimum, was first found by Manfred Koenen in 1980, growing in the Amanus Mountains of the Hatay in Southern Turkey, between Belen and Topbogazi. Subsequently, a robust form was found growing on the Golan Heights by the Cyclamen Society 1990 expedition to Israel. This has been given the varietal name 'Golan Heights' and its progeny are now in limited circulation in the UK.
The name Cyclamen comes from the Greek word kylos meaning circle, referring to the rounded tubers. The meaning of the species name coum has been lost. It is probably derived from a Greek word meaning 'round' or 'oval' & alludes to the roundness to kidney-shape of the leaves, but there are alternate theories.
In 1989 the journal of the Cyclamen Society attempted clarification by suggesting the name meant 'from Koa', an ancient name of eastern Cilicia (encompassing part of Armenia & of southeastern Turkey) from whence Solomon obtained horses, and where C. coum does grow wild. In Aramaic, once spoken widely in regions where cyclamens grow, koum means 'arise', which was a cry made to a dying and reborn demigod or fertility daemon such as Tamuz or Jesus, who rose in the form of flowers.
There is also the region of Al-Koum in Egypt, or Koum (Qum), a sacred town south of Tehran. Al-Koum, Egypt, and Koum, Iran, are within the plant's range. The Iranian village is famed for its carpets with flower & garden scenes. Koum as a place name or as boy's name means 'hill' or 'highlands', such as where cyclamens might well grow.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Family Primulaceae Genus Cyclamen Synonym Cyclamen orbiculatum Common Name Hardy Cyclamen Other Common Names Eastern cyclamen, Round-leaved cyclamen, Wild Cyclamen Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers White to rosy-purple in late winter to early spring Natural Flower Time December to April Foliage Mottled silver grey. Smooth textured Height 10 to 15cm (4 to 6in) Spread 25 to 30cm (9 to 12in) Position Light Shade