Persian cyclamen, also known as florist’s cyclamen, is a common gift plant seen in grocery stores and garden centers around the holidays.
These plants make lovely gifts as they are eye-catching. Their glossy, heart-shaped leaves are dark green with contrasting silver markings. Flowers, in shades of red, purple, pink, white, magenta, and salmon, rise above the mounds of foliage on upright stalks.
Many people enjoy the showy flowers and then discard the plant, not realizing that they can be kept for many additional bloom cycles. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Center for Home Gardening offers below tips on keeping cyclamen alive so you can enjoy the blooms year after year, as well as a history of the plants.
History of Cyclamen
Cyclamen persicum was unfortunately assigned its scientific name in error. It is not from Persia (modern day Iran), but rather the Mediterranean region. It can be found growing in open, rocky soils in parts of Tunisia, Crete, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Israel, and Jordan where it thrives in the hot, dry summers and warm, wet winters of the Mediterranean climate. Intensive breeding work began in Europe in the 1850s aimed at producing new color variations in the blooms, and Persian cyclamens quickly became a collector’s item. But it wasn’t until the 1870s when the first large-flowered cultivars were introduced that this species started to gain popularity with the masses. The end of the 19th century saw further developments by German breeders which improved the overall habit of the plants. The mounds of foliage were more compact and the lengths of the flowering stalks were more uniform. The beginning of the 20th century saw the widespread introduction of cultivars with fringed or ruffled petals. Today breeding work with Persian cyclamen continues, with new selections hitting the markets that have showier foliage and fragrant flowers.
Caring for your cyclamen after the holidays:
☀️ Light needs: Persian cyclamens will be quite happy to sit on a bright, east or west facing windowsill through the winter.
✂️ Pruning: Cut off spent flowers at the base, but do not remove the green foliage.
💧 Watering: When the top inch of soil is dry to the touch, add enough water to fully moisten the soil and pour off any excess that remains in the saucer after a few minutes. They should not be allowed to dry out to the point of wilting, but overwatering will cause the tubers to rot.
🌱 Fertilize: Fertilize every two weeks with a diluted, low nitrogen fertilizer.
Moving your cyclamens outside:
When the threat of frost has passed, you can move your plant outdoors to a shady, covered location such as a porch. Plants will start to lose their leaves and go dormant when hot summer weather arrives. Water only occasionally while the tubers are resting, and resume regular watering and fertilizing in early fall or when cooler temperatures start to trigger new growth.
Take plants inside before the first frost and continue watering. Blooms typically appear in winter or early spring.
Horticulturist, William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening
Photos by Claire Cohen and Tom Incrocci.