The term "hearts and flowers" originally was the title of a tune composed during the late 19th century. Evidently it was quite popular as an accompaniment to silent movies early in the history of cinema. Today, "hearts and flowers" is synonymous with love and romance, as is Valentine's Day. A gift of hearts and flowers symbolizes the heart-felt admiration of a loved one displayed through the sentiment of flowers.
A flowering houseplant that displays both hearts and flowers is cyclamen. The flower of a cyclamen has petals that flair backwards and resembles a "shooting star"; cultivars are available in shades of red and pink along with white. Additionally, many species of cyclamen bear nearly perfectly heart-shaped leaves. The intrigue of the latter often is enhanced with markings of silver or grayish-white. As an added bonus, many cultivars of cyclamen are sweetly fragrant, making it a perfect gift for Valentine's Day.
The association of cyclamen with matters of the heart predates Valentine's Day. The Greek's used it as an amorous medicine which was supposed to cause the person who took it to fall madly in love. Additionally, they used it as a purgative, a medication to speed the delivery of babies and (of all things) a cure for baldness. Years later it was demonstrated that, in fact, the tubers of cyclamen contain a toxic compound that in humans can lead to violent diarrhea, convulsions and paralysis if eaten raw and in fairly large quantities. The leaves of the plant are not considered to be toxic.
Cyclamen is a genus that contains more than 20 species of flowering plants in the Primulaceae family. The name comes from the Latin word for wheel and refers to the round, cormlike tubers formed by the plant. All cyclamen are perennials in their native habitat which ranges from Europe and the Mediterranean region eastward to Iran. Cyclamen are coolloving plants that in their native habitat usually emerge from tubers in the fall, grow and flower during the cool, mild winter and die back in late spring as temperatures warm.
Cyclamen persicum, or Florists' Cyclamen, is perhaps the most commonly grown species of cyclamen today. Although quite popular in Europe for many years, it has been slow to gain favor in the United States due perhaps to its affinity for cool temperatures. Americans tend to keep their homes a bit warmer than most Europeans do, much to the dismay of cyclamen.
The breeding efforts of German, Dutch and Swiss growers can be credited for the large-flowered, standard-sized cyclamen we enjoy today. More recent cyclamen breeding has been focused on producing smaller types known as minis and miniatures. These cultivars tend to produce smaller plants than standardsized cyclamen and they flower faster when grown from seeds. Although they bear flowers that are slightly smaller, mini and miniature types bear them in greater abundance resulting in a more robust display of color. They also are more likely to be fragrant than standard types.
If a cyclamen is on the gift list for a significant other (or yourself) this Valentine's Day, look for plants that appear healthy and have a multitude of buds in the center of the plant. Avoid plants with chlorotic leaves or necrotic leaf margins since this can be a sign of root problems. Cyclamen may flower for several months if kept in bright light and fairly cool temperatures. Night temperatures near 50 degrees Fahrenheit are best, however, a range from 50 to 60 degrees is acceptable. Day temperatures should be kept at about 70 degrees since high temperatures cause the immature flower buds to abort. Never place a cyclamen near a heat register or hot air duct.
Cyclamen should never be allowed to wilt and uniform watering is critical for the plant to perform well. The first sign of inadequate amounts of water, other than wilted foliage, is the appearance of yellow leaves. This may be followed by the collapse of small flowers and/or buds in the center of the plant. Conversely, never allow cyclamen plants to sit in water since, like most plants, they are susceptible to root rots brought on by overwatering.
As mentioned above, cyclamen is a perennial plant and may be forced into bloom in subsequent years if the proper regimen is followed. To rebloom a cyclamen it first must be forced into dormancy. After flowering subsides, gradually withhold water until the foliage dies back. This begins its dormancy or rest period. Do not water the plant for six to eight weeks.
By midsummer, begin watering the plant gradually. Repot if the tuber in the pot is fairly large. When repotting, keep about half of the tuber above the soil line. At this time, a lightly shaded, cool spot outdoors, or a cool, shaded window indoors provides the best location. As new leaves develop, resume normal watering and fertilization and move the plant to a more sunny location. Remember to keep the growing medium moist at all times, and feed with a houseplant fertilizer according to manufacturer's directions. In the fall, move the plant indoors before the danger of frost. Plants treated in this way should rebloom by midwinter.
Cyclamen is quite susceptible to infestation by cyclamen mites. If young leaves of a cyclamen become stunted or curled, the pest may be present. It is very difficult to detect cyclamen mites because of their extremely small size and translucent appearance. Although insecticides are available to combat this pest, control is difficult and infected plants probably are best discarded before the mites can spread to other plants.
REVISED: June 13, 2012