Cyclamen flowers are thought to symbolize goodbyes, which makes them particularly meaningful gifts for those who may be relocating or retiring. There are 23 species of cyclamen native primarily to Europe and Africa. Many species of cyclamen are hardy but the cyclamen persicum (also known as Florist’s Cyclamen) is often seen for sale throughout the fall and winter in less hardy zones as houseplants.
The cyclamen grows from a round tuber (thickened underground part of a stem) which may produce roots from the top, sides or bottom depending on the species. Leaves and flowers sprout from the growing points of top of the tuber. Leaf shape varies between species and even between different specimens of the same species. Flowering time occurs in any month of the year depending on the species. Each flower is on a stem coming from a growing point on the tuber. Flower petal shape varies and can be white, red, pink or purple. In some species the petal edges at the nose are curved outwards into auricles (little ears) but in most species, like the Florist’s cyclamen, have no auricles.
Most common cyclamen is probably the Florist’s Cyclamen and they can be found in shades of pink, red or white. The entire plant when in flower reaches up to only 8 inches high and though it can be grown outside, it is more popularly grown inside as a houseplant. Florist’s Cyclamen grown outside bloom late winter or early spring while those grown in greenhouses bloom sometime around the holiday season.
Florist’s cyclamen does best planted in a soil-based potting mix with the top of the tuber just slightly above soil line. Water whenever the soil feels dry. When the flowers begin to fade let it dry out for two months. Do not water the tube or it will rot. New growth will start to show around September, at which point it is important to resume watering. Apply a low nitrogen fertilizer every couple of weeks and give the plant bright indirect light during the winter. During its dormant state (summer) keep it out of bright light.
Some species of cyclamen are now endangered as a result of its population being severely depleted by collection from the wild. In a few areas plant conservation charities have educated local people about harvesting carefully at a sustainable level and many nurseries are propagating cyclamen without harm to the wild plants.