Cyclamen for the Win!
1/15/2023 10:18 am
Cyclamen for the Win!
Cyclamen hederifolium 'Sweetheart Splash'
✓ Naturalizing low ground cover
✓ Tolerates weather extremes, drought to drenching, infernal heat to frozen tundra
✓ Grows in dry shade and part shade and under thirsty trees
✓ Charming flowers from summer through fall
✓ Attractive winter foliage that goes dormant in the summer to not clash with summer perennials
The underuse of Cyclamen in Georgia is befuddling. Maybe it is because the perennial forms are not that easy to find? Maybe it is because folks only think of these as lovely house plants found at supermarkets like Publix and Trader Joes that are destined for the trash heap if not kept inside? Maybe it is the price tag on a 2 inch pot of a miniature plant?
I recall being a little reticent at paying $6 or $7 for tiny starts of Cyclamen hederifolium 'Sweetheart Splash' (pictured above) at Goodness Grows in 2013. I did have an idea they were pricey after visiting the garden of the pre-eminent North American grower, John Lonsdale, in Chester County, Pennsylvania. But after seeing his Cyclamen display (mostly potted) and naturalized acres of them at Nancy Goodwin's Montrose Garden near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, they were a must have for the shade garden.
The Royal Horticultural Society includes Cyclamen in their top 200 plants of the last 200 years. The reasons at the top of the page make a compelling case. Cyclamen yield four season interest, grow in dry shade, naturalize form a weedless ground cover, and take our cold and heat extremes. Even our recent artic blast did only minor damage to some leaves.
Cyclamen flowers can be red, pink or white and all the shades in between. Some are even bicolored. They may appear from June to April and persist for a few weeks. I have found that plants in Metro Atlanta often bloom at least twice a year. Seeds self sow, but generally nearby, though squirrels, chipmunks and birds may all help in moving some about. But even if Cyclamen never bloomed, the foliage of these plants is worthy on its own. Some are pure silver; others are silver mixed with green in various patterns and shapes; still others have pink/mauve tones in the mix. Some have lacy designs too. They provide a fabulous focal point in the doldrums of winter and through spring.
Cyclamen grow from corms just below the surface of the ground. They start out very tiny, with a baby corm bearing a single tiny leaf. As corms grow, so do the size of the leaves and their number. I have not observed any significant damage by squirrels or chipmunks eating the corms, except when I tried to put some florist annual forms in planters. They were picked off immediately. If these critters do eat perennial forms at the fringes (anecdotal evidence is that they leave C. hederifolium alone and pick on C. coum), they also deposit undigested seed elsewhere in the garden giving rise to new patches of these delightful plants. If you see a single Cyclamen leaf growing somewhere, leave it alone for at least a season to get big enough to successfully transplant.
While the foliage goes dormant in the summer, the corms grow tightly enough together that Cyclamen is an effective weed free ground cover all year long. One less area to mulch is a victory in my book!
Two forms have grown especially well for me in Metropolitan Atlanta, Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen coum. Cyclamen cilicium has persisted through the years enough to recommend.
Cyclamen hederifolium (pictured at top) - One of the best growers here, coming to us from the Mediterranean countries and beyond. Leaves will vary tremendously in color and shapes among any batch of seedlings or you can buy a named cultivar, although seedlings may produce variations in leaf and even flower color. Older corms easily produce leaves 4" and bigger and plants may grow up to 9" tall, including flower height. White flowered forms are found in cultivation more often than they are in the wild.
Cyclamen coum - This species does not fare as well in the north as it does in Georgia, as snow and ice are its enemies. Cyclamen coum sports heart shaped leaves, with colors ranging from green to silver to variegated patterns. Flowers again run a gamut from pink to white. The foliage rarely grows more than 3-5 inches tall, with the flowers nodding a couple of inches above the leaves.
Cyclamen coum 'Silver Form'
Cyclamen cilicium - Not as "loud" as Cyclamen hederifolium, this species has a more quiet nature. The foliage usually has a silver spearhead pattern. Flowers might be pure white or varying shades of pink. John Lonsdale notes that "darker pink forms are becoming available, and all have a delightful scent." This has been a slower spreader for me, growing amid the greedy roots of a red maple.
Cyclamen cilicilium 'Album'
I failed to get the adorable Cyclamen mirabile going, despite moving it around in hopes of getting a corm that produced larger than a 1/4" leaf or two. I've also planted some florist Cyclamen from supermarkets. Sometimes I will get lovely, large variegated leaves on these, but I've never gotten flowers. I suspect that these are bred for heavy fertilizing, something I fail at consistently. We are too warm for Cyclamen purpurascens to thrive and too wet for some other of the 19 species in cultivation.
In some years, Cyclamen leaves will be nibbled upon slugs. Most of the time, I don't find the damage bothersome given the variegated leaves, but if I do, I resort to some putting out some Sluggo pellets.
Want to see the fields of these? Visit Montrose Garden
Want to learn more or purchase from the guru of Cyclamen, John Lonsdale? Edgewood Gardens. Or dive deeper? The Alpine Garden Society shows the incredible variation that can occur within a single species' leaves and has much more information about Cyclamen species.
I've seen these occasionally at Grower's Outlet in Loganville, Georgia (particularly C. cilicium). Plant Delights has quite a few too. I originally purchased C. hederifolium at Piccadilly Nursery in Bishop, Georgia back in 2013. Given how they gently spread, it isn't that hard to bum a few corms off a fellow gardener either!