Q: I received a lovely cyclamen plant as a holiday gift. Where do these plants originate? How do I care for my plant?
A: Cyclamen persicum, Persian cyclamen, is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and is in the Primulaceae (primrose family). The florist's cyclamen consists of hybrids and cultivars of this species. The plant grows from a tuber (a structure like a potato) and has rounded or heart-shaped dark green leaves often variegated with white or silver. They are 1 to 5 inches across on stems up to 8 inches long. The flowers bloom on long stems above the leaves and each has five twisted, swept-back petals that can be lavender, pink, red, violet, or white.
Florists' cyclamen start to grow in the fall and bloom in the winter or early spring. They are often available during the holiday season and have festive flower and leaf colors to go with the season. They bloom best and longest when kept slightly cool, ideally 60 to 65 degrees during the day and 50 degrees at night. The plants need bright indirect light, high humidity, and moist, rich, well-drained soil. They should be watered when the soil is dry on the surface and appreciate sitting on a saucer of wet gravel. They can be fertilized with a houseplant food for blooming plants every two weeks during active growth. Remove spent flowers to encourage more blooms.
Plants go dormant in the summer and will lose most or all of their leaves. This is the time to cut back on watering and keep the pot in a cool, dry place. Begin watering it again in the early fall and give it bright light. You can also remove the tuber from the pot and store it in peat moss or vermiculite, then re-pot it in the fall with a portion of the tuber above the soil and begin watering again. As long as the tuber is hard and rounded, it is still alive.
Written by U of M Extension Master Gardeners in St. Louis County. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.