Fall-blooming Hardy Cyclamen

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium,  used as a groundcover under Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ 11/13/10.

My last post on hardy begonias sparked such interest and comments that I thought I would profile another unusual star performer for fall.  Like the begonia, I learned about hardy cyclamen at a course I took at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, this one on bulbs in 1995.   And just like the begonia, I couldn’t believe that there was a plant that looked like my florist cyclamen house plant but grew outside and came back every year.  I talked about hardy cyclamen in my post on More Flowering Wintergreen Groundcovers for Shade, but I want to profile it in more detail here and include more photos.

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen

There are several species of hardy cyclamen, but the two that are usually available are fall-blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and spring-blooming Cyclamen coum.  I have them both and love them, but if you are just starting out, the fall-blooming variety is much easier to grow.  Cyclamen coum requires the kind of excellent drainage rarely found in mid-Atlantic gardens.  I grow mine most successfully in my rock garden and also less abundantly between tree roots.

Hardy cyclamen begins to bloom in the fall before its leaves re-emerge from summer dormancy.

The life cycle of hardy cyclamen is unusual.  I guess you could say it begins in September when dozens of small pink flowers begin to bloom before the leaves emerge.  Each flower is on a separate 4 ” stem and looks just like a miniature florist cyclamen flower with gorgeous reflexed petals.  The flowers continue to be produced abundantly in succession through out the months of September and October and sometimes for parts of August and November too.  They are said to be fragrant, but I have never noticed a scent.

I would grow hardy cyclamen just for the flowers, but the leaves are spectacular.  They emerge slowly as the flowers are blooming in late September and take several weeks to reach their full size.  “Variable” is an understatement to describe their wonderful shapes, patterns, and colors.  They can be round to lance-shaped, lobed or entire, serrated or smooth edged, dark green to silver.  And the patterns on the leaves are indescribable, I will just have to show you….


Now that you have seen how gorgeous the leaves are, you will be able to truly appreciate another of their wonderful qualities: they stay green and fresh all winter!  The photos above were taken in November but I could just as easily have captured their glory in March.  Instead of going dormant in the winter like most of our plants, hardy cyclamen goes dormant for a few months during the summer.

White hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium ‘Album’

There is a lovely white cultivar of fall-blooming hardy cyclamen called ‘Album’.  Some of mine have pure white flowers and others have white with a pink blotch.  It is just as hardy as the parent species and seeds around my garden readily.

Hardy cyclamen growing between roots at the base of  tree.

Hardy cyclamen is native to western Turkey, eastern Europe, including Albania, Bulgaria, and the Balkans, and southern Europe, including France, Italy, and Greece.  It is  a woodland plant that requires good drainage and shade.  In fact it thrives on summer drought in dry shade.  Although it likes to grow between tree roots and rocks, I have success with it in any shaded eastern facing, dry location.  As you can see from the photo below, my plants seed prolifically and eventually fill in to make a solid mat of groundcover.

Seedlings emerging in a new location across from an established patch with no help from me.  I have a feeling that ants move the seeds around.

Hardy cyclamen grows from a corm, which reportedly can reach the size of a dinner plate when old.  There are growing points all over the top of the corm.  If you try starting the plant this way, plant the corms with no more than 1″ of soil on top plus a very light mulch of leaf litter.  I have never done this because I have read many times that dried corms do not establish well and are often collected from the wild.  I started all my patches from established potted plants and that is how I sell hardy cyclamen at my nursery.  Look for it in my 2013 Snowdrop Catalogue.

The top of corms (about 2 1/2″ wide) of hardy cyclamen with the leaves starting to emerge.  The corms are spherical when younger.

The bottom of the corms—this side down.

The hardiness zone information for hardy cyclamen is inconsistent.  Some sources say USDA zones 7 to 9.  The Missouri Botanical Garden plant finder lists it for zones 5 to 9, while other sources say it grows successfully in upstate NY in zone 4.  You will just have to try it.  For all my UK readers, hardy cyclamen received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Carolyn

P.S.  When I pushed the Publish button, I found out that this is my hundredth post—kind of exciting!!!

Nursery Happenings:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is done for the fall.  Thanks for a great year.  See you in spring 2013.

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56 Responses to “Fall-blooming Hardy Cyclamen”

  1. I have four corms in my garden (planted five, not sure where #5 is!!) I had no idea these little beauties reseeded so much! Hope mine do a lot!! I love the varied leaf patterns.

  2. Actually Carolyn, I’m already taking your advice to try them. I planted a dozen corms in early spring and just noticed a couple days ago that there is now foliage and bloom on several. Most cyclamen folks in this area say that only purpureum is hardy here (and quite difficult to find I might add)… I’m growing a few of those as well. I really hope the hederifoliums work out as I’d love to have drifts of them… yours are amazing!!! Larry

  3. I think I have the perfect spot for them! I’ve been wanting to plant some for a while, but your description gave me a better idea of where they thrive. Thanks.

  4. Hello Carolyn,
    Well done on featuring Cyclamen with some gorgeous photos stressing what good value plants they are. We first saw them flourishing right up amongst the base of huge Pine trees at the old Bristol Botanic Gardens (UK) nearly 35 years ago. We have grown C.hederifolium since then, and when we moved to Wales brought some of the tubers with us – they’re now over 30 years old, dinner plate size and produce nearly a hundred blooms each autumn. We couldn’t grow C. coum in Bristol, but find that in shade on a South facing slope in our very wet garden here they thrive. ( Maybe a banked southerly facing raised bed might help if folk have problems?) Even more remarkably, although supposedly spring flowering, our seedlings start blooming in the first week of October, and go right through anything winter chucks at them, with more flowers until into late March or even April. Remarkable plants!
    I now view the first Cyclamen coum flowers as the start of our new gardening year, but do tend to hand pollinate them since there are so few insects around when they bloom. You can then guarantee hosts of seedlings.
    Great post and photos, BW, Julian

    • Cyclamen coum tends to be an opportunist that produces flower buds very early and then opens them at the slightest hint of warm weather. I do get a lot of seedlings from them but nothing like C. hederifolium. All my C. coum are growing on south-facing slopes too.

  5. paulinemulligan Says:

    You’re right Carolyn, ants do move the seed around, they carry the seed away because they like the sugary coating, When they have cleaned the seed, it is left behind. They are such beautiful tiny flowers and so welcome when they pop up in August. I find Cyclamen coum just as easy under deciduous shrubs.

  6. I love them. Growing them with your hosta is an interesting idea. I have tried growing them from seed and got the buggers all to germinate but getting them to grow outdoors is my challenge. I have more luck with purpurascens. I went to England several years ago and was there for a cyclamen show put on by the cyclamen society. Boy can they grow cyclamen! I went to ashwood and tile barn cyclamen. Nothing to match the experience! Gardenbuddies has a person in the cyclamen forum that has grown them from seed. His beds match those in the UK. Take a peak. Of course there is John Lonsdale down your way that grows some fantastic cyclamen.

  7. I was thinking of combining some Cyclamen with Adonis amurensis because they appear to have a complementary life cycle. Have you ever paired them ??

  8. What a wonderful plant! Takes dry shade in summer? Fantastic! I love how it spreads, too. And the leaves are just as interesting as the blooms.

  9. I’ve seen those in the catalogs but was hesitant with the zone issue. I guess I should just try them and see what happens. I’m in zone 5.
    They sure are beautiful!!!

  10. I will have to try these again. I tried them several years ago and they never emerged. I didn’t know the secret of dryness and I remember planting them in a wet-ish location. Thanks for the tutoring on them! Best to you!

  11. For some reason I didn’t realize these flower in the fall, maybe because I’ve only seen them in garden centers in the spring.I love the leaves, they are quite pretty.

  12. I live in zone 4-5 have best luck with coum & purps. Ron

  13. Happy hundredth post! I love cyclamen as you showed such beautiful foliage they would be worth growing for that alone. Here in Italy they grow wild along the road verges and of course in woodland at this time of year. I choose roads where I know I will see them; they always make me smile. Christina

  14. Anne Morris Says:

    I’ve been following your blog and quite enjoy it. I am in the middle of North Carolina near the border with South Carolina and have enjoyed cyclamen for many years, but the voles ate them. I had them interplanted with Canadian ginger, so there was always ground cover in a shady spot. I look forward to getting some replacements from you.

  15. Hi,

    Lovely Cyclamen; I’ve planted a few winter/spring flowering Cylamen this year – I had them in pots over the past year. Their leaves are emerging so I decided it’s time to plant them.
    Looking forward to their blooms in Jan/Feb now.

  16. Murray Callahan Says:

    I have gotten one of each season cyclamen from you and I love it when they appear. I often despair they will come back but then I see a little flower peep through, then more. They’re taking their good old time to make an ebullient display, but they make me very happy anyway. I recently identified another spot where they’d be perfect, so I hope to get some in the spring.

  17. I too like the leaves. They really add an artistic flare to the garden with the patterning.

  18. Dawn Dasburg Says:

    Would love to be added to ur blog

  19. Carolyn, this is the right cyclamen for where I live now, I am going to find some it and plant them in my garden. Thank you!

  20. I didn’t realise that cyclamens have such striking foliage. The white flowers would look great in a moon garden.
    Congratulations on your 100th post! – quality & quantity,

  21. Yes the flowers are nice, but consider them a pleasant bonus to that spectacular foliage.

    • The flowers bloom for so long that they are more than nice. I was looking at some of my patches today, and they were loaded with new flowers and have been for weeks. I also noticed some new leaf shapes. The little seedlings that I showed in the photo from last fall now have full fledged leaves with beautiful patterns. I love this plant.

  22. Carolyn I love my cyclamen especially because I forget about it and then see it again in spring or fall…and you are right that the leaves are every bit as wonderful as the flowers. I love how the flowers unfurl or uncurl…but oh those leaves are just so amazing…I buy many cultivars just for the different leaves and plant them like you do in dry shade between trees or in other dry shade I have. I will have to watch how some grow in spring as I never distinguished them. I have only planted from the corms and have been successful but purely by chance.

    I would love them to seed around but have never noticed them massing, but it has only been a few years for many. I do need to get more white for my white garden.

  23. I have both hederifolium and coum in my garden, although I find the hederifolium does much better. They were planted three years ago and I find the corms are getting huge. Every summer I add some leaf mould to the area where they are, but every autumn I find the corms right at the surface again. Do yours do that?

    • Yes, they like to grow right beneath the soil surface with a covering of leaf litter. I don’t add anything to the area where they are planted, but I believe you are in a colder zone so maybe it’s a good idea. Just to give other readers an idea of how far north hardy cyclamen might grow, for comparison sake, do you know what USDA zone you are (I believe the Canadian zones are a different system)? Are you outside Toronto?

  24. Midtim@comcast.net Says:

    Fascinating can’t wait to try.

    Middy

  25. I have an enormous number grown from seed collected thirty years ago from the garden of an old friend. Have you any idea if the corms can be divided by cutting into halves and quarters like begonias? Some of mine are really large and I need to move them now.

  26. Hello Carolyn- I just stumbled upon your site- what incredible information! I am a new gardener in Zone 7- DE, and looking for a groundcover for around our walkway that gets AM sun. I see you have it planted with Hosta. Can you suggest other low maintenance pairings with Hardy Cyclamen? Something that will fill in after it has died back? Also- what is the best time to buy and plant? Very excited- this seems to be my kinda plant, low maintenance and hard working!

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