Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
'Tis the season for gift giving, and as a plant lover my favorite gifts to give and receive are plants. One of my favorite flowering houseplants is the cyclamen, whose growth cycle is well suited to holiday displays. The cool days of autumn promote dazzling winter blooms in cyclamen.
Cyclamen flowers come in many shades of red, pink, purple, and white, some even have ruffled edges, and the plants themselves come in varying sizes, from relatively large to petite miniatures. The flowers are borne on graceful bending stems, appearing to hover above the heart shaped foliage. What attracted me to the flowers was their delicate wing-like nature–they remind me of birds or butterflies.
Cyclamen plants can be found nearly anywhere this time of year, from your locally owned greenhouse to the nearby discount giant. The flowers should stand straight, curving at the flower. A floppy, sagging stem is a bad sign, and probably indicates much larger problems with the plant. It's a good idea to look for cyclamen that only have a few flowers open, with many buds forming at the base of the plant waiting to emerge in the coming weeks.
Watering cyclamen can be tricky–I confess that I've killed more than one cyclamen by overwatering. Cyclamens grow from tubers that hold water and nutrients to support the plant during its dormant period in the summer. The combination of too much water and not enough air movement around the plant is a prescription for certain death, usually due to disease. Cyclamen do best in a cool bright location indoors, ideally no warmer than 68ºF during the day, and as low as 40ºF at night, to maximize the blooming period. As the weather warms, the cyclamen's leaves will yellow and the plant becomes dormant. Many people mistakenly discard the plant at this point. If allowed to remain dry and dormant through the summer months, the cyclamen should resume growth in the fall, starting the blooming cycle again.