Cyclamen a popular indoor Christmas  flower

December 5, 2012
Cyclamen do best in bright areas of your home during the winter.

A Christmas ham or Yule ham seems so common and traditional in modern Christmas, but like many things Yule, goes back to Germanic peoples as a tribute to Freyr, a god in Germanic paganism associated with boars, harvest and fertility.

Later the Catholic church used the Christmas ham as a test of truthful conversion from Judaism. Jews in the Iberian Peninsula converted, or forced to convert, to Christianity, often secretly held to rabbinic Judaism.  Called Marranos, any backsliders would decline to eat the Christmas ham, while true converts could enjoy the pig meat with aplomb.

Besides Christmas ham, a popular Christmas flower shows itself now, the Florist Cyclamen.  Oddly, in many languages, cyclamen are given nicknames referring to ham or pig.  Old English called them sowbread, as they are eaten by pigs, the French call cyclamen "pain de pourceau" or "pig bread" the same as "pan porcino" in Italian, "varkensbrood" in Dutch, and even "pigs' manj" in Japanese.

Besides pig blood red, you can find Florist cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) in shades of pink and white. Even cyclamen's foliage is good looking, with silver marbling on the top sides of the leaves.

Your cyclamen will grow best planted in regular potting mix, with the just the very top of the tuber sticking out slightly above the soil.

If your cyclamen has leaves then it is actively growing. Only water when the soil feels dry to the touch and try to keep water from the crown of the plant.

Once the flowers start to fade, gradually let the plant dry out and go dormant.

If you water too much at this stage, the excess water will make the tuber rot.

After a short dormant or resting period, the tuber will begin to grow again, usually around September. Once growth begins, resume watering and feeding with a good organic houseplant fertilizer.

Cyclamen are a bit piggy about having high humidity, especially during winter.

Place your cyclamen on a tray of water with a layer of pebbles for the cyclamen pot to sit on. Keep the bottom of the cyclamen itself above the water so it does not get soggy.

Feed your cyclamen with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer every few weeks when it is in full leaf.

They do best in bright, indirect light during the winter. During the summer when your plant is dormant, place it out of bright light.

Cyclamens are truly moderate houseplants, and do not like heat, yet are not frost hardy. Keep them out of drafts and away from furnace outlets or heating ducts where they will get hot, dry air.

Cyclamen usually go dormant for the summer, so do not be alarmed when by April their leaves will begin to fade to yellow and die.

Once your cyclamen is dormant, keep them in a cool, dark spot with good air circulation.

You can set them pot and all outdoors, in a shady spot. If you choose to store them outdoors, tip the pot on its side to keep the rain out. This will keep the tuber dry and prevent rot.

While your plant is dormant, you can repot with fresh potting soil into a slightly larger pot.

There are plenty of brilliant cyclamen hybrids available.  Because Florist cyclamens stay in bloom for a long time, you can choose your plant while in bloom and see exactly what you are getting. Some outstanding varieties include "Sierra Series" with larger flowers in white, pink, salmon, scarlet, lilac and purple; Scentsation, which is an open pollinated fragrant pink or red cyclamen.  Because it is non-hybrid, you can save the seeds for planting.  Another open pollinated cyclamen is Victoria, whose ruffled white flowers have striking red mouths and edges.

Enjoy a Christmas ham and Christmas cyclamen as you contemplate the Marranos who fled to Italy, apparently to enjoy the holidays but not the pan porcino.

  • 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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