Upswept silky petals, delicate nodding heads, heart-shaped marbled foliage, often fragrant – cyclamen have a whole lot going for them. Although a favourite at this time of year, you could have one flowering every month if you so choose, as different species flower at different times and at the latest count, there are over twenty. Yet as nothing much else is flowering right now it’s the time to shine, and shine they do. The colour can be intense, some pot plant cultivars slightly too bright, looking as fake as any Christmas decoration, but generally the pinks, purples and whites set against dark green leaves are a enhancing presence. In the wild the distribution of cyclamen is centred on the mediterranean, being natives of parts of Europe, western Asia and parts of North Africa. In the UK there is one naturalised species, Cyclamen hederifolium which you can find flowering in the woodlands of Kent between August and September. Botanists believe it is not a native, but a long ago garden escapee. Cultivars of this same species, plus a number of other hardy species, are grown in UK gardens everywhere. The ones we buy in pots over Christmas, tend to be variants of the species Cyclamen persicum as these flower right across the winter period. The name cyclamen comes from the Greek kyklos, meaning ‘circle’, some say referring to the shape of the reflexed petals, others the bulbous roots – it is so old no-one really knows for sure. Many artworks have used these plants for inspiration, helping us admire the beauty of cyclamen in all their forms.
From the Temple of Flora, Philip Reinagle, 1807.
No. 4, Cyclamen europaeum, Helga v. Cramm. c.1880
Bryan Pearce, Pink Cyclamen, No.1, 1962
Cyclamen, Lucian Freud, 1964
Cyclamen, Edward Burra, c. 1956
Cyclamen Pourpre, Henri Matisse, 1912
Cyclamen and Primula, Winifred Nicholson, c.1923
Otto Eckmann, Jugend magazine, 1896.
Pink Cyclamen in Spanish Bowl, Vanessa Bowmman
Cyclamens, 1860, Henri Fantin-Latour
Cyclamen. Pl. 24. La plante et ses applications ornementales, Eugène Grasset, 1896