COMMON NAME: Cyclamen
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
C. purpurascens-pinks; blooms in fall. C. hederifolium-vigorous, easy to grow. C. coum-cultivated since 1596.
DESCRIPTION: Cyclamen has lovely pink-carmine-magenta nodding flowers, borne singly on stems that, on some species, coil downward. The foliage is also quite attractive, usually a dark, glossy green and sometimes mottled. With the necessary cultural conditions, cyclamen can be used as a lovely ground cover. The plants reach a height of only 4 to 6 inches.
CULTIVATION: Cyclamen is often grown indoors as a houseplant but is hardy in some southern areas and can be used effectively in rock gardens or in small clusters underneath trees and shrubs. The plants grow from corms, which should be planted 1 to 2 inches deep in late summer. They prefer rich, moist, shady areas. The corms do not multiply or divide so propagate by planting new corms or sowing seeds during the summer months. Be patient, though, for it may take as long as a year to get a bloom from seed.
The genus name Cyclamen is from the Greek word kyklos, meaning “circle.” Some say the name refers to the circular form of the corm; others say it is because of the spiral coil that the stalk makes after flowering. The common name sowbread comes from the fact that wild pigs grub for the roots. In some countries, the bulbs were at one time used for fodder.
Cyclamen was used as a medicinal herb long before it was known for its beauty. The bulbs contain a substance called cyclamin and are considered poisonous. Taken in small quantities, they can produce nervous tension and gastritis. In larger quantities, the symptoms become more severe, and cramps and paralysis can occur.
Roasting the corms destroys some of the toxicity, and they were sometimes beaten and made into small cakes. Eating these corms was thought to make one feel amorous and fall in love easily. The medicinal uses of the plant were varied. An ancient English remedy suggested: “In case that a man’s hair fall off, take this same wort, and put it into the nostrils.” It was also widely used in childbirth. The powers of the plant were thought to be so great that it was considered very dangerous for a woman even to step on this plant while she was pregnant, for fear she would have the baby early.