Cyclamen is one of the most common flowers in our country. Every year, millions of them are sold already potted. Cultivating cyclamen doesn’t require special attention, but it’s important to understand the plant and its needs. Therefore, growing these flowers is within everyone’s reach. It’s a much-loved plant for the beauty of its flowers, and also for its specific flowering period, which occurs in the autumn-winter seasons.
Let’s get to know this flower better, with its vibrant colors and unique shape. Let’s also see how to cultivate it in a pot or garden and what care is necessary to keep it flourishing.
Identification of Cyclamen
Cyclamen (Cyclamen) identifies a genus of flowering plants in the Primulaceae family (or Myrsinaceae according to recent classifications). It’s a species native to countries bordering the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Even ancient civilizations admired its beauty and uniqueness, and various legends were built around it. For instance, the Greeks attributed a magical significance to the cyclamen because of the roundish shape of its tuber from which it grows and the flower stem’s tendency to form a spiral. These circular forms were seen as having affinities with the circle, understood as a magical figure representing the universe. Confirming this, there’s the Greek origin of the name, “kyklos” meaning circle.
The different species of cyclamen
There are several species of cyclamen, many of which grow spontaneously in our forests. The forest is the ideal natural environment to promote the plant’s spontaneous growth, which prefers consistently moist soil, less sunlight, and rich organic matter. Among the species of Cyclamen found in the wild are:
- Europaeum, mainly found in beech forests in central-northern Italy
- Neapolitanum, a very hardy species, widespread in chestnut and oak forests in Southern Italy. This species is also known as “pamporcino”;
- Repandum, less hardy than the others. It’s widespread spontaneously in oak woods and scrubland in central-southern Italy.
For domestic cultivation and commercialization in the famous pots, the most commonly used species is Cyclamen persicum, known as Persian cyclamen. The following botanical description refers to this species and its variants that have been selected over time.
Botanical characteristics of cyclamen
The cyclamen’s root is actually an underground tuber from which leaves and flowers originate. The tuber has a round and flattened shape, while its color is dark, almost black. From the tuber, stems emerge, some producing leaves, others flowers.
The leaves are usually heart-shaped, with long stems, fleshy texture, and entire leaf margin. In Persian cyclamen, their color is dark green, with striking silver variegations. The flowers, solitary and pendulous, are also borne on an erect and long stem, situated at the apex. They are highly fragrant flowers, averaging about 2-3 cm long and of an unmistakable pink color.
Varieties of Persian cyclamen have been selected with larger flowers, up to 8 cm long. Moreover, through selection, the range of colors has expanded from classic pink to salmon pink, lilac, various shades of red, and white. The cyclamen’s corolla consists of 5 petals, which initially bend downwards, forming a short cup-shaped tube, then turn upwards and spread freely. The fruit (seed) is represented by a spherical capsule. After flowering, the stem carrying the flower coils, bringing the fruit capsule close to the ground.
Reproduction of cyclamen
A new cyclamen plant arises from the seed. The tuber, in fact, cannot be divided to give life to new plants, as happens, for example, with tulips, narcissus, turmeric, and ginger. The seeds are collected in summer, when the capsules containing them are fully mature. Sowing takes place between late August and September. The seed is planted shallowly, using small pots (4-5 cm in diameter) or seed trays. The soil used is a mix of 50% peat (available here), 40% garden soil (available here), and 10% sand. The mix should be light and well-draining, hence the addition of sand. To facilitate germination, reducing its time, it’s advisable to soak the seeds in water for about 24 hours.
The first year of life
Cyclamen plants grown from seeds planted at the end of summer have a long vegetative period before flowering. Typically, flowering occurs in December of the following year, after 14-15 months. In the initial months, temperature fluctuations should be avoided, maintaining around 20°C during the day and not dropping below 8 °C at night. If the issue doesn’t arise in September, from October onwards, young shoots need protection. Cyclamen can also be sown in January, but greater attention to temperature is required. The germination environment should be protected, with temperatures not dropping below 8 °C. Plants sown in January will still bloom in December but will be smaller in size. To protect the seedlings in colder months from their first year, you can use a balcony greenhouse like this one.
Subsequent years after the first
As mentioned, to obtain a new cyclamen plant, one must start from the seed. However, by correctly preserving the tuber, repeated flowering can occur for several years. After the initial flowering, which usually ends in February, the plant loses its vegetative structure and will not produce new shoots. During this period, the tuber must be preserved, kept in soil, in a cool place with very limited watering, completely absent from June onwards. Cultivation of cyclamen, starting from the tuber, resumes in August. The tuber is removed from the soil in which it grew the previous year and placed in a larger pot. The pot should be filled with new soil, rich in organic substances. The tuber should not be buried deeply but planted just below the surface. At this point, watering resumes, and from the soil, flower stems will sprout from October onwards. A cyclamen plant can produce for several years, repeating these operations. Naturally, uprooting the tuber is unnecessary if the cyclamen has grown in open ground. It’s crucial to know this information because cyclamens are usually sold in pots already in bloom, during the Christmas season, typically already a year old. Potted plants are sold in many places; you can also conveniently order them online (available here).
How to cultivate cyclamens
Cyclamen requires a specific cultivation environment. As we mentioned, it grows in the wild under forest cover. This means it doesn’t like direct sunlight, especially during summer months. Therefore, it’s advisable to choose shaded areas. If grown indoors, however, the pots should be placed near a window but without excessive exposure to the sun.
Cultivating cyclamen involves several repottings. Plants grown in summer from seeds should be transplanted in winter, in February, using 10 cm diameter pots. Transplanting occurs when the plants start having many leaves and a reasonably sized tuber. Throughout their life cycle, cyclamens are moved into pots of increasing diameters according to the plant’s growth. Repotting is necessary when the tuber has completely colonized the pot. The diameter of the new pot can reach up to 13-15 cm for each individual tuber. Naturally, if there are multiple tubers, larger pots will be used. The soil mix used for repotting is the same as described earlier for sowing. It’s also possible to transplant tubers from pots to open ground. The ideal month for this operation is June, when the tuber is dormant.
Water is crucial in cyclamen cultivation. The soil must always be moist, especially in spring-summer. While watering should be limited in autumn-winter, intervening only when the soil is dry, in the warmer months, water should be given almost every day. However, ensure a certain level of ventilation. While the soil should always be moist, combining this condition with warmth and poor ventilation creates too much humidity, which can be harmful. Excessive humidity can lead to botrytis, or gray mold, one of the most common diseases for this flowering species. The risk is higher when the plants are indoors. Outdoors, however, the problem is much rarer.