What is a Cyclamen Plant?

Janette B. Lim

The cyclamen plant is a genus with 23 species that originally belonged to the family Primulaceae, or the Primrose family; it was, however, reclassified to the Myrsinaceae family in 2000. The plants commonly are grown for their white, pink or purple beautifully-marked flowers. Upswept petals and patterned leaves make these flowers a favorite of many florists. Cyclamen is also commonly known as sowbread and sometimes as Persian violet or violet, though it is not related.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

What is notable about the cyclamen plant is that while some species flower in just autumn or spring, many species flower throughout the year. Some of these five-petal flowers are scented, and many bear a close resemblance to the bending reflex petals on the Dodecatheon herb plants. The variety most favored by florists is the C. Persicum specie, which needs to be stored at temperatures of at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) while it is still flowering, otherwise it will go dormant.

The leaves of the cyclamen plant are shaped like a heart or an arrowhead and come out in autumn, die in spring and go dormant in summer. They are variegated with blotched colors of green and silver that resemble camouflage. This plant is a tuber, with a mature plant having a 2- to 3-inch (about 5- to 7.5-centimeter) tuber, though there have been specimens in the wild that can grow as big as dinner plates.

These tropical plants can be found in many parts of the world, including the Mediterranean region, parts of Europe and western Asia. Their typical habitat ranges from woodland to rocky areas to snowy meadows. They can also be grown in pots and used as outdoor and indoor ornamental plants.

Many wild species of the cyclamen plant are classified as endangered due to heavy collection and harvesting for horticultural purposes. There is a strong educational campaign to control harvesting and to propagate the plants in the wild. This tropical plant also is protected by an international organization called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Countries around the world have agreed to requiring permits to import or export the cyclamen plant.

Cultivating this plant is not too difficult; the unique design of the flowers with the protruding stigma surrounded by the anthers ensures that pollen has only one place to go. The fertilized seed capsules then form a tight coil, which lowers to the ground and eventually germinates.

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