There were a number of interesting plants available this year at Elliott Park; one that I have never seen at any of our local plant sources is hardy cyclamen. This plant is hardy to zone 5 unlike the florist’s cyclamen which we buy in the spring to brighten our windowsills. That variety is Cyclamen persicum and is only hardy to 25 degrees.
There are 19 species in the genus Cyclamen. Their flowering periods range from spring to fall and many of the species are fragrant. All members on the genus are native to the Mediterranean region, including Greece, Italy, Southern France, Turkey, Cyprus, Italy and North Africa. Most are found in mountainous regions and so can be treated as alpines in the garden.
Both the florist’s cyclamen and hederifolium are very similar with mottled silver gray foliage. Hedrifolium reaches a height of 6 inches and most commonly has a pink bloom. A white variety ‘Alba’ exists and there are color variations within the species. Because of its small size and ability to reseed itself it is often used as a ground cover. It requires light shade and some protection from the weather so it is frequently planted under deciduous trees. It does not deal well with winds.
Hedrifolium produces a small, 1 inch flower in late summer to autumn. During the summer months they often become dormant and the foliage disappears. This is an evergreen species but the cold weather will often cause the leaves or stems to blacken or go limp. They generally recover as the weather improves.
Cyclamens are tuberous plants and should be plated only about 2 inches deep. They need a well drained soil or the tubers tend to rot. A covering of gravel to prevent surface water from collecting is suggested. Another reason that cyclamen does well under trees us because tree roots tend to keep the soil in their immediate vicinity fairly dry. The tubers may be divided every 3-4 years but it is not necessary for abundant flowering. Care must be taken to seal the cut and to make sure that there is an eye for each tuber.
Cyclamens like a well drained humusy soil with some grit. They also like a slightly alkaline soil.
Cyclamen is also known as “sowbread”. The name derives from the fact that the tubers were once a source of food for wild hogs. Medicinally it was used to treat skin ailments and external ulcers. It is also said to cure purging if he liniment is applied externally over the bowels..
Outdoor cyclamens have few serious pests. Only the occasional person is allergic to the plant and I could find no indication that it is considered a gourmet treat by deer, rabbits or groundhogs. It seems to be a very desirable plant. Time will tell.