This time of year nurseries, garden centers, and grocery stores are swamped with the ubiquitous poinsettias in a vast array of colors and sizes. They are nice plants, but for something unique, look for cyclamen (pronounced sy-kla-men or sick-la-men). Either (or either) way you pronounce it – the plants and their flowers are bewitching, captivating, and stunningly beautiful. Cyclamen make a wonderful holiday houseplant, offering a note of grace to the home or office.
Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) were brought to Europe from the Holy Land during the Crusades. They quickly became popular even then as holiday plants. Plant breeders have been working with them ever since, breeding for larger flowers, longer lasting flowers, and a wide variety of colors. Choose from pink, red, white, lavender, wine, scarlet, salmon, bicolors, and even ruffled forms. In America, bigger is better, so giant brash poinsettias are all the rage. For quiet restrained elegance, some people prefer the exquisite nodding blooms of cyclamen.
Cyclamen for the Holidays
Select a plant that fills the pot well, has healthy-looking leaves, and the blooms are not gone by. Ideally, find a cyclamen with many healthy buds coming along.
Open The Wrapper!
Holiday plants come from the store with a foil or cellophane outer wrapper. It looks pretty, and is handy for transport purposes. BUT! This wrapper prevents the plant from draining properly. Poor drainage can drown the roots and kill the plant.
Cyclamen are very fussy about wet roots. Remember, they are from the arid hillsides of the Holy Land. If you leave the wrapper on, cut a nice drainage hole in the bottom and place the plant in a saucer to catch drips.
It is best to use room temperature water to water cyclamen, indeed all house plants. Get a pretty watering can because it’s also good to let the water sit overnight so the chlorine evaporates.
How much water? That depends on the soil plus the amount of light or heat the plant may be getting. Touch the soil with a finger tip. Look at your finger tip – if a few tiny pieces of soil adhere, the soil is just right. If it feels soggy, do not water.
Most cyclamen, like other flowering holiday plants, and even house plants, do best in filtered or indirect light. In full sunlight they can sunburn. Besides, the sun quickly fades blooms. Cyclamen will do fine in a florescent office space, and generally fit on a reception desk better than a giant poinsettia.
In general, room temperature is fine, without either hot air from the furnace or cold drafts.
The bright rays of sunlight beaming through the car windows can sunburn plants, even in winter. To transport plants in the car, best to place them in the floor well. This also reduces tipping problems. (Or if they do tip, it’s easy to clean up after.)
Long term care
Cyclamen leaves may remain green into April, then start to yellow. You did nothing wrong! The plant is just following it’s genetic programming and going dormant for the summer. At any point after cyclamen are done blooming, you can plant them out in the yard. Select a shady site with very well-drained soil. Hopefully they’ll survive, but our Arizona summers are generally too wet for them. They like to remain on the cool and dry side when they are dormant. Your cyclamen may pass on to that great compost heap in the sky. They were beautiful while they lasted.
For more about holiday plants in the Southwest see my book “Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico” (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies.
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