Cyclamens don’t seem to be such popular Christmas plants as they once were. I didn't see their swept-up bouffants or silver-etched, heart-shaped foliage at our local department stores in December anyway. But I’m guessing they will cycle back into favor again eventually!
When they were more widely available during the holiday season, I learned that the best way to preserve one was by keeping it at cool temperatures (between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit) for as long as possible. The cyclamen, after all, has a different growth cycle than most plants. The Persian type, from which the florists’ cultivars derive, originated in the Mediterranean area. There, it generally sprouts in fall, blooms during winter, and dies back to remain dormant during the heat of summer.
So, if you live in a house such as mine, where a family member likes to keep the temperature cranked up to almost 80 degrees, your cyclamen may decide to take its long summer’s nap while winter still whitens the landscape just outside the window. Therefore, I learned that I should stash the plant in a chilly back room under a fluorescent grow light.
You, too, will want to find a cool but not drafty spot to keep it, where it still will get plenty of bright indirect light or a couple hours per day of direct sunlight. When you water the plant, aim the stream at the soil and avoid splashing the corm—the bulb-like protuberance beneath the plant from which the foliage sprouts. Its crown should sit a little higher than the soil around it.
That corm actually is a pudgy stem of sorts. But, if it rots, your cyclamen will be no more. The soil should stay lightly moist at all times, though, since the foliage will wilt in dramatic fashion if the plant's potting medium becomes parched. In that case, too, it may assume that the summer dry season has arrived and refuse to rouse from its swoon. As long as the corm still feels firm, the plant is not dead—just sleeping.
In The Unexpected Houseplant Tovah Martin notes that “Too little water and a cyclamen faints. Too much water, and it dies. It’s a balancing act.” She recommends growing the plant in a clay pot rather than a plastic one to prevent sogginess.
Once my cyclamen’s foliage began to yellow and shrivel in late spring, I would place its pot on a covered porch with other houseplants, tipped over to remind me not to water it. In late summer, it would start making new growth from the corm again, at which time I could set it upright and resume the watering.
That would be the time to repot your cyclamen if you think it needs a change of soil. I can’t now remember how long I succeeded in keeping the plant going that way, but I’m sure I did get at least one additional season of bloom out of it.
As 19th century poet Robert Fuller Murray noted in his poem “Cyclamen,” the plant's care can be almost as tricky as keeping a difficult relationship between humans alive. But sometimes the plant and/or the relationship are worth the effort!
Photos: The photos included in the article are my own.