Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

I love cyclamen.

It all started a couple years ago when my girlfriend brought me a small tuber from the garden she was working at. It was September at the time and the plant was in full bloom. Just a large mushroom looking thing, with little pink flowers limply hanging off.  Soon after being planted, the cyclamen perked up and put on a show that carried on right until first frost. From there the flowers faded and the leaves emerged. While initially it was the florescent blooms that attracted me to this plant, it’s leaves are equally as alluring. These highly ornamental leaves hold on right until the weather starts getting warm at which point the plant goes dormant and awaits cooler weather.

cyclamen hederifolium

They’re truly a pleasure to grow and if you have more then one variety in the garden you’ll likely see some hybrids appear. Seedlings are slow to start but spread they will. I’ve had them in my garden for nearly 5 years now and I’m just starting to accumulate a population . Ants and birds distribute the seed throughout the garden and seedlings appear in the strangest places. There seems to be a great deal of variability in their leaf design and flower color, each with their own personality and uniqueness. For those of you wanting to share cyclamen with your friends, look towards your oldest plants and take a peak under the leaves in early springtime. While creatures may distribute much of the seed, the majority end up self sowing right at the base of the plant. With a still hand you can gently prick these seedlings away from their mother and pot them on elsewhere. Using this method I was able to collect over 100 seedlings this spring with great success.

cyclamen hederifolium seedlings
Little cyclamen seedlings

While I mostly grow Cyclamen hederifolium (the hardiest) there are over 20 species to try; most native to the Mediterranean region. The more I study these plants the more ingenious they appear. Cyclamen thrive at a time of year when most plants are winding down. As the trees loose their leaves, the cyclamen flush out and capitalize on the newly available light. As summer rolls around and water demands are more dire, cyclamen close up shop and rest until things are more favorable. They are survivors and they owe it all to the strange tuber like storage organ they’ve adapted to survive when times are unfavorable.

Cyclamen hederifolium

This brings me to the reason why I’m talking about cyclamen today, their tubers. On Sunday I was toiling about in the garden in my usual fashion when I went to re-pot a newly acquired cyclamen that wasn’t doing so well. When I took it out of the pot it fell clean. It appears that it wasn’t growing poorly but actually going dormant for the summer season. Until now I’ve never really taken a good look at these tubers in their entirety and upon closer speculation I was blown away. As if this plant wasn’t cool enough, even their unseen tuber hide a secret beauty.

Cyclamen tuber

cyclamen tuber

cyclamen tuber

Cyclamen tuber

You can find art in the strangest places.

6 Responses to A close look at cyclamen.

  • Anna says:

    Debra KnapkeAlways happy to introduce a new bteauy to a gardener! We are used to seeing the tender Persian cyclamen (cold hardiness zone 8b/9) in a flower shop or grocery store, but many gardeners are unaware that we can grow the smaller species in our zone 5/6/7 gardens.

  • JanRik says:

    I don’t have the right soil in the garden to grow these beautiful plants, but I do have one indoor specimen which is now over 32 years old. No, that’s not a typo, the plant is actually at minimum, 32 years old. It was in flower when I brought it as a gift for my Nan in 1984, then when she passed, I took it back and have had it ever since. Would love to have a field of them in my garden around my apple tree, but as I say, the soil isn’t right.

  • Peter Loewer says:

    I must get in touch with you. See my website and you will know why. And trying to find out what a small tree is that closely looks like “devil’s club” or Fatsia horrida that is growing locally in Asheville, NC but shouldn’t be! Peter

  • Niko says:

    Hey, awesome, I finally find another person in BC (I am in Vancouver) who seems to appreciate them as much as I do. I did a lot of hiking in Greece when I was (much) younger and you will never believe the places & in conditions in which they manage to thrive..
    And I second your propagation techniques. They are supposed to be so difficult to grow from seed, you have to stratify in the fridge and plant them t the right time in the just right amount of “grit” and blah blah.. I just collect their seeds when the pods burst in late August and scatter them around the yard, under trees mostly, near the trunks, between roots in shallow soil. By November usually, I have a few dozen new plants growing. Most survive to year two. My goal is to get a full uniterrupted carpet of purple flowers under the trees, by year 2020 🙂

  • Mark and Gaz says:

    We love Cyclamens, the flowers are a bonus but they are fab foliage plants! Must say I’ve never seen their tubers before so it was very fascinating to see your photos, cool!

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Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.