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Colorful and Cheery Cyclamen

Martha Stewart Living, December 2006

What do you see when you look at a cyclamen on a blustery winter day? Butterflies soaring above a leafy jungle? Hummingbirds fluttering in the house? There are few winter companions more vibrant than the many, varied children of Cyclamen persicum, often called the florist's cyclamen.

The pure, unrestrained joy of this tuberous perennial, and its range of colors and forms, may lead to a home with cyclamen plural, not singular. Flowers come in shades of magenta, red, salmon, lavender, and white. Picotees are edged in a different color. Others may have dark eyes. There are minis and large-flowered cyclamen, semi-doubles, and those with fringed petals. Buy with your nose as well as your eyes: Some have a clean scent.

A bit fussy, C. persicum is usually grown indoors or in a greenhouse. The plants want bright light (not direct sun) and a cool room (fifty-five to sixty-five degrees). They need to be watered thoroughly but not too frequently; if the soil is not allowed to get somewhat dry between waterings, a harmful fungus may take hold.

Cyclamen are native to western Asia and southeastern Europe, yet modern breeding has diminished their natural tendency to expect the hot, dry summers of their homelands and to go dormant. A cyclamen can often thrive continuously for years. But if a plant becomes leggy, open, bedraggled, or yellow after flowering, it may be remembering its roots, so to speak. This can be the time to toss it. If you want to try reviving the plant, however, start by checking that the tuber is not rotted (it should be firm), and then reduce watering. Stop altogether once the foliage collapses, and store the plant in its pot in a cool, dark place, ignoring it until August. It needs rest.

Remove the tuber (noting which way is up), rub off any old roots, and repot in fresh soil; it should protrude a bit. Set it in bright, indirect light, and water it. Once leaves begin developing, resume watering, and fertilize. The plant may not return as glorious as it was, but an old friend can be forgiven.