Cyclamen: Hearts and Flowers

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Pink cyclamen. | Photo courtesy of Tony Hisgett

COLUMBIA, Mo. — The gift of hearts and flowers symbolizes the heartfelt admiration of a loved one through the sentiment of flowers. A houseplant that displays both hearts and flowers is cyclamen, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

Sold in shades of red, pink and white, many of its species bear nearly perfect heart-shaped leaves. Its petals flare backward to resemble a shooting star. In a press release, Trinklein said, “As a bonus, many cultivars of cyclamen are sweetly fragrant, making it a perfect gift for Valentine’s Day.

The association of cyclamen with matters of the heart predates Valentine’s Day, he said. “The Greeks used it as an amorous medicine that was supposed to cause the person who took it to fall madly in love. Additionally, they used it as a purgative, a medication to speed the delivery of babies and, of all things, a cure for baldness.”

Not all is rainbows and sunshine, however. The tubers of cyclamen contain a toxic compound that can lead to violent diarrhea, convulsions and paralysis when eaten raw and in fairly large quantities.

Cyclamen are perennials in their native habitat, which ranges from Europe and the Mediterranean region eastward to Iran. They are cool-loving plants that emerge from tubers in the fall and grow and flower during the winter. They die back in late spring when temperatures rise.

Cyclamen persicum, or florist’s cyclamen, is perhaps the most widely grown species today. Popular in Europe, it has been slow to gain favor in the United States, perhaps because Americans tend to keep their homes a bit warmer than most Europeans do, much to the dismay of cyclamen, said Trinklein.

German, Dutch and Swiss breeders can be credited for the large-flowered, standard-sized cyclamen enjoyed today. More recent cyclamen breeding has focused on producing smaller types known as minis and miniatures. These cultivars tend to produce smaller plants and flower faster when grown from seeds. Although they bear slightly smaller flowers, mini and miniature types bear them in greater abundance for a more robust display of color. They also are more likely to be fragrant than standard types.

For tips on how to care for your cyclamen and force it to bloom in years ahead, go to ipm.missouri.edu/MEG/2011/2/Cyclamen-Hearts-and-Flowers.

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