For me, one of the highlights of December is the arrival in stores of all those winter-blooming cyclamen. Aside from poinsettias, they are my favorite cold-season flowers. There’s just one problem. After a couple of weeks, the plants’ stems often start to droop and the leaves may even turn yellow. But not to worry, there’s a solution! All it takes is an understanding of where cyclamen come from, and why temperature is key to their success indoors.
CYCLAMEN HAVE MEDITERRANEAN ROOTS
Yes, they may look like locals, but cyclamen are native to the Mediterranean, known for its dry, hot summers and cool, wet winters. The name derives from the Latin cyclaminos, meaning circle, a reference to the shape of the plant’s tuber. The genus includes 23 hardy and non-hardy species celebrated for their elegant, upswept petals and intricately patterned leaves.
In the wild, cyclamen grow in a range of inhospitable areas including rock crevices and low, open scrubland. Still others prefer the dappled shade of deciduous trees. There are summer and winter-blooming species, although most are summer-dormant, meaning they bloom in the cool winter months and die off in the spring.
Wild cyclamen growing in a rock crevice
Much of North America, however, does not have conditions conducive to winter blooms. As a result, cyclamen are generally sold as houseplants. And of all the varieties sold, the most popular is Cyclamen persicum. This frost-tender species has been bred specifically for indoor use. It is the parent of most of the florists’ cultivars we see today.
Florists’ cyclamen, C. persicum
WHY WE LIKE THEM
There’s no doubt that the cyclamen’s biggest attraction is its vibrant flowers. Held aloft on delicate stems, each flower consists of five petals that bend outwards or upwards. Common colors are pink, deep cherry red, lavender and white, although these days, new hybrids include hot pink. And the petals of one recent introduction called Stargazer face downwards .
But flowers aren’t the only attribute of this tender species. The leaves are equally showy, and just like the flowers, grow on a stem all of their own. Color and shape vary greatly across species. Some leaves look like ivy while others are rounded. Many are heart-shaped with a pointed tip. Even the undersides are beautiful, ranging in color from deep green to a rich red or purple.
CYCLAMEN CARE: THE FOUR ESSENTIALS
So how do we ensure our cyclamen can thrive indoors? It’s all about the temperature, followed by ample light, proper watering and feeding.
Here are the four most important things you need to know.
1. KEEP THINGS COOL
Remember, in their native habitat, cyclamen flower in the winter in cool, humid environments. This means that if your house temperature is over 68° F during the day, your plant may start to die. You’ll know when this occurs, because your plant will tell you. When the temperature is too high, its leaves will begin to turn yellow and its flowers will droop.
To avoid this, place your plant in a cool location away from drafts. And make sure it is far removed from sources of heat.
2. PROVIDE LOTS OF NATURAL LIGHT
The Mediterranean region is known for its abundant light. It follows that cyclamen like that, too. Place your plant in a well-lit spot — a couple of hours of sunlight a day is ideal. But remember, in the wild, cyclamen prefer dappled shade or the shelter of rocky crevices. Never place them in direct sunlight.
3. WATER WHEN THE SOIL IS DRY
Like all flowering houseplants, cyclamen are sensitive to both over and under watering. Water only when the soil is dry to the touch, taking care to avoid the leaves, which can lead to rot.
After saturating the plant completely, make sure that all excess water has drained from the bottom of the pot. No plant likes to sit in standing water.
3. FEED THE FLOWERS
Unlike plants in the wild, container plants must look to their pot to meet all of their needs. Feed your plant every one to two months with a water-soluble fertilizer at half strength. But don’t overdo it. Too much fertilizer may produce more leaves, but diminish blooms.
GETTING YOUR CYCLAMEN TO REBLOOM
After blooming, cyclamen go into a dormant state. In the wild, this means they sleep for the summer. However, if you’re interested in coaxing your houseplant to rebloom indoors, allow the leaves to die and stop watering. Place the plant in a cool, dark place, remove any dead foliage and let it sit for two months.
Once your cyclamen has finished dormancy, take it out of storage and begin watering it again (following the same regimen as above). When the leaves start to regrow, resume normal cyclamen care.