The genus Cyclamen contains about 23 species, which are all native to the Mediterranean region. Florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) was introduced in Western Europe in the early 17th century and has slowly gained popularity in the United States. It is a tuberous potted plant that flowers during the winter months. The flowers reflex back from the center and are available in single, double, fringed, crested, and frilled forms. Florist cyclamen has a mounded growth habit with green foliage mottled with silver and ranges from 6 to 16 inches in height. Its heart-shaped leaves and blooms in shades of white, pink, rose, purple, and red make it a popular selection for Valentine’s Day. However, the bright red, pink, and white flower forms are also becoming increasingly popular for Christmas.
Cyclamen prefer cool temperatures and bright indirect light. Ideal daytime temperatures are 60 to 65 °F, with night temperatures around 50 °F. If temperatures reach above 70 °F, buds will fail to develop. Avoid placing cyclamen plants near heat vents, as this will cause the soil to dry out too quickly. Cyclamen prefer to be kept moist but not soggy. Water when the potting medium feels dry to the touch, and always water along the edge of the pot or from below to avoid causing the tuber to rot. With proper care, cyclamen will continue blooming for up to 4 weeks. Removal of spent flowers can also help to encourage more flowers to develop. When deadheading, securely grab the spent flower stem and pull it off completely from the plant’s crown.
In their native habitat, cyclamen typically go dormant after flowering (coinciding with the Mediterranean’s dry season). As the plant goes dormant, leaves turn yellow and fall off, allowing the energy to replenish the tuberous root. Most people discard the plant at this point. Re-blooming a compact, high-quality cyclamen plant in the home environment is difficult. Typically, light levels are not high enough in the home, resulting in weak plants with smaller blooms that are lighter in color and leaves with elongated petioles. Although a challenge, it is possible to force cyclamen to bloom again.
To encourage reblooming, keep the soil from completely drying out during the dormant period. Then, place the dormant cyclamen in a shady place until new leaves emerge. When new leaves start to grow in mid-September, move the plant to a bright (full sun) location and water the soil thoroughly. Continue to water it regularly and fertilize it monthly with a liquid houseplant fertilizer. Keep the cyclamen in a location with a temperature of 50 °F at night and 60 to 65 °F during the day. Florist cyclamens will rebloom by mid-winter with proper light, adequate moisture, and cool temperatures.
Florist cyclamen can be propagated by seed and vegetative division; however, both methods are difficult. Growing cyclamen from seed is discouraged, even though this is the only method used by professional growers. Cyclamen seed germination is slow and erratic, and 9 to 15 months are needed to produce full-sized blooming plants, even under the best greenhouse conditions. Vegetative propagation of cyclamen can be problematic as well. Florist cyclamen has few growing points on each tuber, and once the tubers are cut, they are prone to desiccation and rot. Due to the difficulty in propagating cyclamen, it is recommended that gardeners purchase new plants.
Cyclamen are relatively problem-free. Occasionally, they are attacked by aphids, mealy bugs, spider mites, or thrips, which can be controlled with insecticidal soap. Plants infested with cyclamen mites are best discarded since this pest is difficult to control. For more information on controlling insect pests, see HGIC 2252, Common Houseplant Insects & Related Pests.
Revised by Barbara Smith 11/23
Originally published 08/07