Enjoying florist's cyclamen scarcely scratches the surface of the pleasures to be had from this intriguing genus. To a plantsman, they are curious members of the primrose family, looking very little like their familiar relatives. To a botanical specialist, and to a cyclamen enthusiast, they are an easily recognisable group with many fascinating features.
Cyclamen have been overcollected from many parts of their range, and there are finally some restrictions being enforced. Gardeners are asked to check that plants which they buy are not wild-collected to assist in controlling the illegal trade in these and many other bulbous plants. The commoner species will seed quite freely in cultivation, and form a saleable plant in a couple of seasons, with a well-developed storage structure.
The storage structure also has
a common origin through the genus, but it is a strange part of the plant
to have this storage function, and leads to disagreements in botanical
circles as to the proper name - tuber or corm? - probably neither is strictly
correct, but let's leave the botanists to argue that one out. In nature
these may form above ground like those of the florist's cyclamen, with
roots mostly from the bottom, or may be buried shallowly with roots from
the top or all over in various other species.
The length of the flowering season depends on the species and on weather conditions, but usually lasts two to three months. If the flowers set seed, the stalk coils on itself, drawing the developing fruit into the centre of the plant. The capsule eventually splits open when the seeds are ripe, and there may be some dispersal of the seed by ants.
Cyclamen enthusiasts often grow the plants in pots so as to be able to control the water that the plants receive. There are spectacular fall displays in various alpine houses of botanical gardens such as Kew and Wisley, where plants from several species with marbled leaves have been selected to illustrate the range of possible forms and markings. And these are only a small selection of the apparently infinite range.
Cyclamen hederifolium is by far the most frequently encountered species, but others can be found, and not only in specialist nurseries. There is a thriving society of enthusiasts, which has sponsored several collecting trips, adding material for study and distribution to gardens. They have a website that covers all aspects of growing, and is a fascinating trip in itself. Visit this at http://www.cyclamen.org/indexCS.html