Hardy cyclamens brighten up dark areas in fall

September 7, 2012

As the days get shorter, the evenings are just a little longer and just a bit darker. Dark enough to spot the Little Dipper constellation, Ursa Minor (Latin for Smaller Bear, contrasting with Ursa Major, Larger Bear, for the Big Dipper). Ursa Minor is famous as the location of the north celestial pole.

When the Romans referred to Asia, they distinguished between “their Asia” and “everyone else’s Asia.” Asia Minor, from the Latin Asia Minores, was Asia inside the Roman Empire, separate from Asia Magna, all of Asia beyond.

Many so-called “minor” bulbs are from Asia Minor. Glory of the snow or Chionodoxa bulbs (C. forbesii, C. sardensis, C. siehei and C. luciliae) are early-blooming, small flowers from Asia Minor. Even hyacinths are from Asia Minor and came to England through Persia in 1561. So are the unrelated grape hyacinths (muscari).

But there is a minor bulb from Asia Minor that is not only in bloom right now, in late summer and early fall, it also can be planted now for blooms next year. Better still, it can and will bloom in shade with little water and no fertilizer.

These hardy plants called cyclamen are perfect to brighten up the dark spots under shrubs and trees.

They flower in shades from pale pink to crimson with delicate butterfly-shaped flowers above heart-shaped foliage that stays attractive all winter. Cyclamens flourish in dry shade and live a long time. They naturalize well and if happy will spread into large clumps.

There are two main hardy cyclamens, Cyclamen hederifolium and cyclamen coum.

The typical pink flowers have a deep purple V-shaped spot at the base of each petal; they bloom between August and October. Also, a pure white-flowered Cyclamen hederifolium seems to glow after dark.

The blossoms appear either just before, or alongside the the ivy-shaped leaves. The leaves vary widely in shape and color. You may find green or silver leaves with many patterns.

Cyclamen hederifolium is probably the hardiest of all the Cyclamen species. It does well in either full sun or partial shade. These delicate flowers flourish when grown in compost-rich soil with lots of rotting leaves.

Related to Cyclamen hederifolium is hardy Cyclamen coum. This too does best with little or no fertilizer in leafy, well-drained soil.

Plant hardy cyclamen in the fall about 2 inches deep. Plant the smooth side down and space the tiny bulbs, called corms, 10 to 12 inches apart.

Many still refer to these as Neapolitan cyclamen, as they came to Europe through Naples.

Hardy cyclamens are available from Wayside Gardens (www., Vesey’s (www. and Park Seed (www. or 800-845-3369.)

Under the spell of the big and little bears, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, plant minor bulbs now from Asia Minor and have a major impact on next year’s garden.



  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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